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 Book Review for Stapleford
by
Dr. Judd W. Patton
Published in the Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
Volume XVI, 2004

Bulls, Bears & Golden Calves: Applying Christian Ethics in Economics. By John E. Stapleford. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2002. Paper. 224 pages.

Suppose the Gallup Organization was to poll economists by asking the question, “What does Christianity and especially Christian ethics have to do with questions of economics and economic analysis?” This reviewer would suggest that 99% of economists would respond with: “Nothing, absolutely nothing!” But John Stapleford would respond, I think, as demonstrated in his insightful book, Bulls, Bears & Golden Calves, “Everything, absolutely everything!”

This reviewer thinks Dr. Stapleford is correct. For economists to advocate a specific policy or course of action, scientific economic analysis alone is not sufficient. Advocacy requires a value position, a standard. The same economic theory, for instance, would obviously be applied differently by libertarians and socialists. Most economists grasp that. So, where do economists today get those ethical precepts or standards to advocate public policies they are so eager to make? Nobel economist George Stigler rightly discerned the answer: “Wherever they can find them.” Humorous, yes, but it reveals why economists often disagree.

Still, “fair and balanced” economists should agree and admit that Christian ethics is just one of many possible frameworks to evaluate economic issues and public policy choices. Generally, economists should recognize Christian economics, a normative science of what ought to be, as a valid, bona fide research area within the economics profession. Nevertheless and perhaps surprisingly, few economists, especially those with Christian faiths, have chosen to pursue and develop this worldview and potential gold mine of economic value.

Thankfully, Dr. Stapleford has taken the challenge. His efforts have borne some very fine fruit.

Dr. Stapleford applies Biblical thinking, scriptures, and ethics to economic issues and discovers a plethora of new insights and conclusions on sixteen important economic topics, such as: economic growth, the proper role for government, poverty, the environment, legalized gambling, pornography, less developed countries, immigration, population control, and more. Moreover, since college-level macroeconomics and microeconomics courses often address many of these same topics, Dr. Stapleford offers to help students make the contrast by including a valuable table to match-up his chapters with seven major college textbooks.

This reviewer would encourage college economics professors to consider using Bulls, Bears & Golden Calves as a supplement in introductory economic courses and other upper-level economics classes dealing with contemporary economic thought and policy issues. The contrast would definitely expand student horizons and encourage critical thinking while providing real world applications; something students need and appreciate.

Dr. Stapleford’s work is a book in Christian normative economic thought. His scriptural analysis and application to economic problems appear sound. Like Moses in Exodus 32, our author destroys many false assumptions and ideas, or golden calves (idols), held by contemporary economists.

Here are just a few truths that shatter widely held golden calves: Democratic institutions will not function effectively without a moral foundation provided by God; Only under a private property order can good stewardship of the environment be achieved; Christianity is NOT the religion of socialism, but rather of free enterprise; Price inflation has its roots in monetary debasement (Isaiah 1:22) through expansionary monetary policies of the Federal Reserve; Economic efficiency is not the “be all and end all” of economic activity; and the Invisible Hand, made famous by Adam Smith, of individual self-interest leading to general welfare only works by moral or virtuous human action.

This reviewer, respectfully, sees a few golden calves held by Dr. Stapleford himself. For example, contrary to Dr. Stapleford’s exposition, government redistributive programs violate the eight Commandment against stealing. “You shall not steal unless by majority vote” is not the quote in Exodus 20! Such transfer programs are legal plunder, as the great French economist Frederic Bastiat taught us. But the roots to this and other “differences” in Christian economic thought are due, primarily, on how one answers a major paradigmatic question, something economists or theonomists - who hold a Biblical economic perspective - will have to resolve among themselves.

That question is: “Is there a unique science of Christian Economics built on the revealed premises of the Bible itself? That is, is Christian economics a normative science of applying ethical precepts to economic theory of some economic tradition or is it a unique science independent of any humanist school of economic thought? Dr. Stapleford takes the former position. (Humanism, of course, refers to the premise that man and his reasoning is the sole source of knowledge.)

God has revealed, however, that His inspired Word, the Bible, is the foundation for ALL knowledge. That includes economic science! As stated in Proverbs, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge" (Proverbs 1:7) and "wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). Christians should not rely on any worldview of men, "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8).

The conclusion of this reviewer is that God’s Word provides the foundation for a unique science of Biblical Economics. It is more than a patchwork of ethical principles and economic theory, as rewarding as such an approach may be. Rather, it is a unified, comprehensive body of economic and moral laws that are inexorably interrelated. Thus, when economic laws are broken, moral laws are disobeyed as well. Only a few economists like Gary North and Hans Sennholz have taken up the calling to begin developing this extraordinary science. Hopefully Dr. Stapleford will consider joining that group in the future.

Still, Bulls, Bears & Golden Calves is a well written, welcome addition to the growing body of Christian economic thought. Students and interested laymen will undoubtedly discover some significant “missing dimensions” in economics not covered in college textbooks. I’m very bullish on it and recommend it highly.

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