All Commentary
Thursday, January 1, 1987

Book Review: Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism by Ronald H. Nash

Crossway Books, 9825 W. Roosevelt Road, Westchester, Illinois 60153 • 1986 • 223 pages, $8.95 paperback

Good intentions divorced from sound economic theory can produce disastrous consequences, and, according to Professor Ronald Nash, this is precisely the trouble with ecclesiastical pronouncements on social issues.

Nash approaches economics almost exclusively from the Austrian free market perspective, expounding such basic tenets as marginal utility, opportunity cost, and supply and de-mand. His chapter on value provides a fine critique of cost of production theories and stresses the importance of the subjective theory the theory that individual preferences determine the economic value of a good, not the quantity of labor it took to produce it. Nash is quick to point out, however, that “The price of an economic good reflects the extent to which individuals desire it; and this is something quite apart from the question of how desirable it is.” Subjective economic value does not exclude the possibility of objective moral precepts.

After explaining the basic operation of the market, Nash describes the unworkability of socialism. Relying on the early work of Ludwig von Mises, Nash demonstrates the impossibility of “rational” economic calculation in a socialist society. He criticizes “liberation theologians” for their futile attempt to synthesize Christianity with Marxism, concluding that their program is neither liberating nor theological.

In a later chapter, Nash discusses the biblical view of money and wealth. “Since the world is God’s creation,” he writes, “and since God placed us in such a close relationship to the material world, the creation and use of wealth is a perfectly proper activity.” Wealth is good, but as a means to other ends and not as an end in itself. Private ownership is necessary for the practice of Christian stewardship and the biblical requirement of private charity. The Bible in no way sanctions the redistributionist policies of the modern state. Prosperity is better than poverty in God’s material world, and the free market economy is the way to prosperity. But the market cannot thrive in a spiritual vacuum, nor in the absence of biblical standards of morality.

Nash provides an excellent introduction to free market economics within a biblical framework, as well as a penetrating and cogent study of liberation theology. In a day when socialist ideas are creeping into seminary classrooms and many church pulpits, Nash’s Poverty and Wealth: The Christian Debate Over Capitalism is especially welcome.

(Richard White is a first-year student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.)