Review for Stapleford
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,
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
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"
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
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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