Economics: Value and Morality

Economics: Value and Morality

When the Light of Scripture is Ignored

By Tom Rose

The Scriptures tell us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7), and that it is the Person of Christ “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3).

Therefore, if we believe the Bible, we should not be surprised to find that the Bible indeed is a useful source of information and guidance, even when it comes to the study of economic science. This Book is especially useful for gaining insights about:

1. the nature of man, and 

2. the moral rightness or wrongness of man’s social relationships.

When it comes to establishing economic policy, where questions of morals and ethics are always close at hand, it is easy to see how the Bible can be of invaluable service. Most Christians see such directives as, “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not covet,” “… if any would not work, neither should he eat,” and “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own?,” as quite clear in their meaning, though they might disagree somewhat on how to apply them in specific social instances. So, applying the Bible to the normative area of economics can more easily be understood than applying it to the positive aspect of economics.

But, what about the positive aspect of economics? Can the Bible really be of practical use here? We are convinced that it can. Take, for instance, the “value problem” that economists failed for so long to solve. A study of economic history shows that the answer to the dilemma of what caused things to have value eluded the early economists for centuries. Yet, the correct solution was in the Bible all along!

This may be a somewhat audacious claim in the opinion of secular economists, but it is clear to me from my study of the Bible that the missing key for solving the persistent “value dilemma” was all-along available in the Scriptures if only the early economic investigators had sought wisdom and enlightenment from God’s objective revelation of scriptural truth.

In short, the Classical economists erred in solving the problem of value (they thought value was instilled into objects as the result of applying man’s labor energies to them), when the correct answer was readily available in the Bible. And the undesirable effects of their failure have persisted up to the present time.

Classical economists claimed that value was invested in a good by expending labor in its production. In general, those articles that had more labor expended in their production were said to be more valuable; those on which less labor was expended were said to be less valuable.

This is the Classical “Labor Theory of Value.”

Karl Marx followed in the footsteps of the Classical economists. Though he is regarded as the “father of communism,” and even though he was mainly what today might be regarded as a sociologist, when it comes to economics Marx is regarded as the last in the line of Classical economists. Though he attacked the system of capitalism with vehemence, he thought and reasoned as a Classical economist, and he accepted their theories. He was not an original thinker. Marx accepted the Classical “Labor Theory of Value” even though it was false. This now-discredited theory was the key building block that Marx used to develop his antagonistic theory of labor exploitation. And he used this, in turn, to support his ideology of a deeply rooted class struggle between workers and employers (the laboring class versus the capitalist class). The ideology of class warfare is a sociological concept rather than an economic concept.

Out of Marx’s unstable structure—unstable because it is built on the shifting sands of error—evolved two phenomena that have had great impact on our modern world:

First, is the Cold War. The free nations—which more or less accept the biblical view of man, or which did at one time—are aligned on one side; and the communist nations—which take an atheistic view of man—are aligned on the other.

Two opposing worlds stand bristling against each other; and the divisive economic factor is the different belief, or ideology, that the protagonists hold about the morality of the free-enterprise capitalistic system. The capitalist nations claim the system is fair to all, while the communist nations are wedded to the belief that capitalism unfairly exploits the working class. (Let us not forget that the economic argument is just a surface issue, the real crux of the matter hinges on theology and the different world-life views that result from opposing theological concepts.) And the extent to which once-free nations have moved to centrally controlled economies serves as a measure of the inroads that their citizens have succumbed to the indoctrination of Marx’s ideology of class warfare and his false labor theory of value.

Second, is the worldwide industrial conflict that continues to fester like a running sore between management and labor unions. The managements of corporations throughout the world are lined up against militant labor unions that are led by men who have accepted the Marxian theory of labor exploitation. Even if the communist threat of worldwide military and political domination should ever abate, the effect of the Classical economists’ erroneous solution to the “value problem” promises—through Marx’s theory of labor exploitation—tobe a continuing divisive force between the users of capital (workers) and the owners of capital (stockholders, and their representatives,management).

If the early economists had properly related the biblical teaching about man to their reasoning about the “value problem” (that man was created in the image and likeness of God and could, therefore, like God, impute value into things; i.e., that value exists only in the mind or in the eye of the beholder), then the Classical economists would not have fallen into the error that they succumbed to. And Marx and his class-warfare ideology and the whole Marxian system of economics which resulted, and which now splits the world into two disputing camps, would have been denied their key foundational building block.

Examples of where the Bible shows an imputation of value onto or into another person or object are so numerous that it is a wonder that such a clear biblical teaching escaped notice by the early economists.

The New Testament Greek word agapao (John 3:16; Rom. 9:13; 1 John 4:10) and others shows an imputation of value into or upon the object loved.

The same can be said for words like ahab (Mal. 1:23; Jer. 31:3) and chasahq (Ps. 91:14; Deut. 7:7) in the Old Testament. The New Testament Greek word agapao means a searching, personal love, as a man’s love for his wife. Why does a man value the woman he asks to be his wife more than any other, even though to others the object of his affection may appear plain, homely, fat, ugly, frivolous, deformed, or even to have bad breath? The only logical explanation is that love, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Love is felt toward the object of affection because the one who actively loves, for some inexplicable reason, imputes a value into the person or object esteemed.

Thus with God toward man. The Old Testament Hebrew words connote the same kind of love: ahab means to have affection for and chashaq means to cling to, to love, to delight in. The root meaning of chashaq is “setting love or value upon.” Clearly this is an imputation of value, a valuing process that occurs only in the mind of the one doing the beholding. Could the meaning be more obvious?

But even more obvious are the use of words such as arak (Lev. 27:12, 14) and mikcah (Lev. 27:27) and timao (Matt. 27:9). Arak means to set in a row, to arrange in order, to compare, to esteem, to estimate, or to value.

Mikcah means to make an enumeration or a valuation. And timao means to prize, to fix a valuation upon, to revere, or to honor. Again, the clear meaning is that of a subjective estimation or valuation that is imputed.

The careful use of these words in both the Old and the New Testament should have served as useful clues to anyone who made a serious attempt to relate biblical truth to the solving of the “value problem” which evaded solution by the Classical economists. The fact that Classical economists settled on an erroneous “labor theory of value” serves to indicate that none seriously used the Bible as a benchmark against which to evaluate his study of economic science.

I point these things out, not to second guess eminent economists who are long dead and who made great strides in helping develop the science called economics, but rather to show that the light found in God’s revealed Word really and truly has something worthwhile to say to economic practitioners both in the area of positive economics and in normative economics. It only makes good sense for the searcher of truth to make use of every tool provided by God; and the economist who overlooks any source of light, especially that of the Bible, does so at his own risk. ***

Tom Rose, M.A., is the director of the Institute for Free Enterprise Education in Dallas, Texas. He also teaches economics at John F. Kennedy College in Nebraska. He commutes a lot.

Article from The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Vol. 2 No. 1.

This entry was posted in All-Encompassing Gospel, Gov't/Theonomy, Theology/Philosophy, Worldview/Culture, Z-Uncategorized and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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