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  • Oneist Economic Lies:  Yes, Even Taylor Swift Helps Us Understand Economics 
  • Oneist Economic Lies:  Yes, Even Taylor Swift Helps Us Understand Economics 

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    April 1, 2024

    By Dr. Jeffery J Ventrella

    “Why then did you not put my money in the bank, and at my coming I might have collected it with interest?”[1]

    This year’s TruthXchange Symposium, Every Square Inch,[2] seeks to take Christ’s Lordship “to the streets” where we actually live – engaging real people with the real Gospel.  As C.S. Lewis noted, Christ claims every square inch of reality; this includes academic disciplines and pop music.

    Last week’s Dicta looked at two troubling pagan ideas concerning history.  This week’s edition will be different.  It focuses on economic errors and how those errors really reflect or presuppose Oneist notions rooted in the exchange of the Truth for the Lie.[3]  These economic errors comprise lies that live, lies that undermine and compromise human flourishing.  Let’s get to the gist.  And, yes, Taylor Swift can help us here.

    The TruthXchange Hermeneutic, the World and Everything in it, including Economics

    At first blush, it may seem dubious to engage with economics theologically, particularly in terms of the TXC hermeneutic.  The disconnect, however is not between theology and economics, but with our own truncated worldview that often in advance rules out different aspects of reality, like economics from informed theological reflection.  Worse yet, folks often assume economics is morally neutral and beyond the ken of theology.  This may be one reason some cultures struggle in poverty; they adopt kooky (and immoral) economic policies and thereby are paying the price – literally.[4]

    The TruthXchange hermeneutic, however, explains Paul’s cosmological and ethical structure applicable to all of reality. That cosmology is structured in a foundational Binary, which TruthXchange calls Twoism:  The basic distinction between the Creator and Creation.  Denying this Binary results in “Oneism.”  Oneist assumptions need not present themselves in Eastern “New Age” jargon or constructs.  Often, these pagan assumptions can be dressed up as respectable academic notions.  Consider this example from one of today’s societal deities, “science.”  Noted scientist, Carl Sagan, began his popular series Cosmos, by asserting:

    The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.[5]

    Aside from its striking epistemological hubris, this blurb sounds profound when wrapped with nifty music and stunning photos.  But note:  this is a classic claim to Oneist reality.  All that is, was, or will be is stuff or star dust – this asserts a closed universe, lacking any actual transcendence of any type. Oneism comes in many variations and varieties and can impact all of reality: whether savagery, super science, or sorcery.[6]  The TxC hermeneutic aids us in exposing these Oneist assumptions, including those embedded in or impacting economics.  Why?

    Actual reality is structured as a Binary.  Only this Binary can account for intelligibly understanding reality, as created, fallen, and redeemed.  Accordingly, anything and everything in reality is touched by Paul’s cosmological thesis, including social sciences like economics.  In Paul’s analysis, the power of the Gospel (Rom. 1:16) confronts what’s really happening in the world (Rom. 1:18-32):

    • Truth is suppressed
    • Truth is exchanged for the Lie
    • Creation is thereby worshipped and served
    • Unrighteous practices arise
    • Unrighteous practices are then increasingly approved → which leads to increased suppression of the truth

    Accordingly, the TruthXchange hermeneutic, because it’s derived from Paul’s comprehensive cosmology, is fit to address the ways that fallenness manifests itself as described by Paul.  Therefore, a vibrant cultural apologetic should address: 

    (1) The muting, marring, or masking of the Truth; 

    (2) The Lie, its permutations, and its residual echoes; 

    (3) The idols that arise from worshipping the creation, including man’s errant ideas and traditions; 

    (4) The ethics – that is, unrighteous practices – that arise from this false worship allegiance; and/or 

    (5) The press of the culture to codify – formally in law or by social convention – these unrighteous practices.  

    This hermeneutic aptly constitutes in many ways an analytic Swiss Army Knife for doing cultural apologetics.  This current Dicta series – Lies that Live – has largely focused on the echoes of the Lie that impact or influence Church and culture (point 2) and the ethical practices that emerge from it (point 4).

    This Dicta uses that analytic Swiss Army Knife to consider several ubiquitous, yet fully erroneous economic myths or fallacies[7] operating today.  This discussion, unlike many “conservative” economic rebuttals, also brings a theological lens to the analytic party.  With this in mind, let’s consider Taylor Swift.

    The “Zero-Sum Game” Fallacy:  Is Taylor Swift a Thief???

    To understand this fallacy answer this inquiry:  Whom did Taylor Swift, (or Lebron James, or Jimmy Fallon) exploit to become rich?  This fallacy asserts – like a teeter-totter – that if someone gains money it’s because that money was taken from another.  If my bank account goes up, it’s because I took from someone else.  Explained differently:

    So, for example, if each of five people playing poker buys into the game for $100, there is only $500 to be won. Collectively, that’s a zero-​sum game. If I have $200 left at the end of the night, then all of the other players together have only $300 to divide among the them. In zero-​sum games, one person’s gain is another person’s (or several people’s) loss.[8]

    This fallacy assumes that resources are fixed; the economic pie never grows; it’s only transferred.  Markets, according to this fallacy, allocate – and only allocate – resources; they do not grow them.[9]  (Everyone with an IRA rejects this fallacy in reality).  This is Oneism in the sense that the economic universe is deemed fixed – like the cosmos according to Sagan, “it’s what is, was, or ever will [fiscally] be”.  

    This assumption ignores that an economic exchange benefits both traders; both are wealthier after the transaction.  Buying a cup of coffee illustrates this:

    One of the most fundamental insights of economics is that exchange is mutually beneficial and therefore wealth-​creating. When Starbucks sells me a coffee, they prefer the two dollars to the coffee and I prefer the coffee to the two dollars. We are both made better off by the exchange. Notice that exchange makes us both “wealthier” by giving us something we value more for something we value less, and that this happens even without any new resources being produced.[10]

    Free exchanges do not exploit; they benefit the traders.  Now, is this Christian?  Indeed it is.  Jesus roots one of His parables on the freedom of contract to freely trade money for labor – Matthew 20 tells the story of a vineyard owner and his laborers – they all freely agree to compensation – each for an identical amount, yet the workers separately had agreed to work different hours.  Then at the end of the day the workers who labored longer grumbled, despite receiving what they had agreed.  Jesus rejects their complaint categorically:

    And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last.”[11]

    This kingdom parable presupposes a functioning market where traders can bargain freely – each assessing the “value” of an exchange—not unlike buying a cup of coffee.  While each laborer received the same pay, the value calculus is different because the negotiations varied as to hours worked – the grumblers implicitly assumed that the one-hour worker gipped the others, or somehow took from the others – a zero-sum assumption which Jesus categorically rejects.  

    A proper Christian view of reality rejects this fallacy in toto and in fact, obeying the Cultural Mandate as well as the Great Commission require rejecting it:  wealth and productivity are required to promote human flourishing and to fund these efforts.  And, correlatively, Jesus chastises those – calling them wicked – who fail to grow their investments or otherwise horde and stagnate economically.  Risks are to be taken and returns will be rewarded.[12]  Taylor Swift may be many things, but an economic thief – due to her commercial success – is not one of them.

    The “Order Requires State/Central Design and Planning” Fallacy:  Should the Postal Service Control our Business Cycles???

    This fallacy assumes that market order and coordination must be pre-determined and planned, usually by Statist managerial “experts.”  What this means theologically is that divine attributes – sovereignty/omnipotence, omniscience, righteousness – must be ascribed to the State instead of God.  And, absent such Statist “command and control,” there will be no coordination and therefore no societal order.  This view is flawed, as our libertarian[13] friends note:

    The flaw at the heart of this fallacy is that it ignores the idea of spontaneous or undesigned order. The mainline of economic thinking over the last 250 years has been focused on understanding the ways in which good social institutions can lead self-​regarding individuals to cooperate and coordinate in ways that none of them intended. This idea was at the heart of Adam Smith’s metaphor of an “invisible hand” guiding humans to create benefits that none of them intended, and Carl Menger’s work a century later, which asked how it was possible for institutions to emerge that no one had willed into existence. In the 20th century, F. A. Hayek took this line of thought one step further by explaining how markets created coordination and order by making better use of dispersed and tacit knowledge than any other system could.[14]

    How does this fallacy reflect a Oneist view?  In several ways.  First, it assumes that because there is no Creator-God, man must engineer and command all coordination – man becomes sovereign and supposedly omnipotent for society to function.  But to implement that sovereignty, man must have power and thus collective man, as realized in the State, becomes the necessary command and control.  This inevitably not only leads to shortages and other economic misery as history readily testifies, but also to political despotism, whether soft or hard.[15]

    Second, this fallacy, again lacking a Creator-God, requires man to be omniscient in order to process the market’s crucial and ever-changing economic data points.  The rather obvious problem is that man is finite as well as fallen.  He can never – in advance – know all that is necessary to efficiently link traders, which is why controlled economics are at best mediocre and at worst, produce shortages and misery:  Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea.  The State has a knowledge problem, an insolvable large one.[16]

    Third, these foregoing factors necessarily impede man’s freedom and moral agency – man must submit to the State’s stipulated ham-fisted economic dictates, rather than creatively subdue the created order.  Man, God’s image, is instead increasingly himself subdued, instead of the Creation – this decision inverts the Cultural Mandate.  Thus, the State becomes the law giver or chief ethicist – the State defines and embodies righteousness, and increasingly can have no rivals.

    Fourth, this in turn reduces or eliminates civil society – those voluntary organizing institutions that spring from people interacting via common interest and mission:  societies and associations of all sorts, sports leagues, churches, charities, ministries, clubs, et al.  These produce – without any State directive or coercion – societal organization, coordination, and order.[17]  

    It’s not been lost on scholars to note that one of the first things the Soviets did in crushing Europe – Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania – was not to immediately impose communism economically, but rather, to crush civil society’s mediating and ordering institutions.[18]  The Soviets in their perverse revolutionary way understood that ordering and coordinating arises where freedom flourishes.  These mediating institutions thereby rival the State.  This is why the Soviet actors – using tanks and bazookas – sought first to remove freedom from society leaving only the State by default as the ordering – and coercive – power.  And, as we saw with the decrepit Soviet system, this produced harsh economic consequences, gulags, death, and certainly not human flourishing.

    Mankind as created was created free in order to flourish; the Cultural Mandate requires it.[19]  The economic dystopia of the Center Planner directly undermines this creational norm of Twoism because Twoism teaches us that mankind is Imago Dei and has been commissioned from above by God with twin missions:  The Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission.  Man is answerable to God, not Caesar ultimately.

    Only the market with its real time and constant feedback loop can inform traders efficiently – a bloated State system cannot possibly do so:

    The prices and profit signals of the market provide the feedback that informs producers whether or not they have created value for others. In a genuinely competitive market, profits indicate that consumers valued the good more than they valued the individual inputs that wentinto its production.[20] 

    A Statist system cannot determine in advance whether trader X will value service Y or widget Z at pre-transactional State-established prices.  And, without such key knowledge, the enterprise will languish, so the State is left to either (1) not reward profitable efforts; or (2) subsidize losses – both of which depart from a biblical view of just desserts or justice.

    In sum:  Only God is omniscient, omnipotent, righteous, and the one who liberates.  Consequently, for the State to function as if it possessed these divine attributes is to invite not only inefficiency and error, but idolatry – that which Paul calls worshipping the Creation.  A Statist economy is ultimately a Oneist economy.  The next generation of Christians needs to understand the theological cost and consequences that flow from economic decisions that ignore Christian cosmology.  The TxC hermeneutic provides that understanding.  

    We must avoid both benign inefficient monopolies like the Postal Service as well as despotic “planned economies” like the former Soviet system or the current and oppressive Communist Chinese regime.  Neither option is Christian as both deny the fundamental Binary of reality, which is why both functionally fail, but worse dehumanize and oppress real people in the name of “the People.” 

    The “Consumption as the Key to Growth” Error:  Can We Really Spend Our Way to Prosperity???

    The Garden setting normatively establishes that mankind’s anthropology includes work: the Cultural Mandate.  Work in fact is inherent to being created Imago Dei.[21]  Productivity precedes Consumption.  This is the biblical ordering.[22]

    Statist alternatives invert this order, claiming Consumption must precede Production.  The idea surfaces this way:

    We hear it every time the economy enters a recession and begins to recover. Pundits declare that consumers need to start buying things to generate a recovery, and reports about the latest data on consumer spending make the headlines.[23] 

    The fallacy here, promoted by British economist John Maynard Keynes, seems intuitive upon reflection:  consumption consumes– therefore, it provides nothing of value.  In contrast production does provide value.  Thus, championing consumption as a proposed solution to a business cycle produces bad economic consequences.  Again, as our libertarian friends explain:

    If we want to generate economic growth, whether in a recovery or outside of a business cycle, we need to focus on what sorts of institutions and policies encourage economically sustainable production [investment of capital and labor]. . . . Stimulating consumption does nothing to promote recovery and is likely to harm long-​run growth, coming as it does as the expense of investment spending.[24]  


    “Spending our way to prosperity” is a bit like inhaling water to prevent downing – not advisable and decidedly harmful.

    Conclusion and Solutions:  Live Not by Economic Lies; Root Economic Thinking in Cosmology

    Economic decisions and policies that deviate from or flatly deny creational norms, that is, norms of anthropology, Twoism, knowledge coordination, et al, will at best stagnate human flourishing and at worst erect Statist tyranny and control.  Economics cannot be a morally neutral enterprise.  Our very design requires us to work first – productivity must precede consumption as God ordered reality.  Taylor Swift may not confess this, but she certainly lives in terms of it.  So should we.

    NB:  College and graduate students:  To learn how the TruthXchange hermeneutic applies to your calling and discipline, please consider applying for the TruthXchange Fellowship.   

    And to everyone else:  Please join us for Every Square Inch, this year’s annual Symposium August 30, and 31 in Pasadena – and yes, even Economics will be addressed!

    For Further Study:

    • Jay W. Richards, Money, Greed, and God – Why Capitalism is the Solution and Not the Problem (2010)
    • Victor V. Claar and Robin J. Klay, Economics in Christian Perspective:  Theory, Policy, and Life Choices (2007)
    • Samuel Gregg, The Next American Economy:  Nation, State, and Markets in an Uncertain World (2022)
    • Thomas Sowell, Economic Facts and Fallacies, 2nd Edition (2011)
    • David L. Bahnsen, Full Time:  Work and the Meaning of Life(2024)

    [1] Jesus, Luke 19:23

    [2] August 30, and 31, 2024 in Pasadena.

    [3] We recognize that economics may not “float your boat” and may in fact be a real snoozer for you.  Yet, for the young collegiate Christians studying economics, they need to understand how thinking Christianly applies to every endeavor, including every academic endeavor – even economics.  There can be no neutrality – either thoughts, including academic thoughts, are taken captive to obey Christ, or they are not (2 Cor. 10:5). Either we stand on the solid rock of God’s word, or the shifting foolish sands of autonomous reason Matt. 7:24-27).

    [4] Scripture is quite realistic about the human condition and even notes that rampant inflation is a sign of societal curse and spiritual poverty.  See, e.g. Hag. 1, 2 Kgs, 7:1, Rev. 6:5, 6, et al

    [5] Cosmos, opening line (1980) television series, narrated by astronomer Carl Sagan.

    [6] This triad is borrowed from the cartoon Thundarr the Barbarian, October 1980 to October 1981.

    [7] A fallacy is actually a type of lie – a reasoning error – that imperils rationality and thus undermines truth.  To reason irrationally is sinful – Paul makes this very point in Romans 1: 21, fallen men “became futile in their thinking.”

    [8] https://www.libertarianism.org/columns/three-widely-believed-economic-fallacies

    [9] This is one glaring flaw – among many – in Marxist theory.

    [10] See supra, note 8.

    [11] Matt. 20:11-16.

    [12] See, the Parable of the 10 Minas (Luke 19:11-27).  See also, John Schneider, The Good of Affluence:  Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth(2002) 

    [13] Libertarianism as a worldview or political philosophy is unchristian at many points; the economic insights of some classical liberals or Libertarians, particularly the Austrian economists like Mises, Hayek, and Friedman, however, do provide valid insight into human action as well as cogent critiques of all forms of Statist collectivism.

    [14] See, supra, note 8.

    [15] See, e.g., Paul Anthony Rahe, Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift:  Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (2009).

    [16] Thomas Sowell, Knowledge and Decisions (1980, 1996 updated edition)

    [17] Edmund Burke, the British conservative, called these mediating institutions society’s “little platoons.”  For an interesting excursus detailing how the meaning of this has changed over the years, seehttps://www.theamericanconservative.com/knock-it-off-with-the-little-platoons-already/

    Frenhman Alexis Tocqueville noted America’s remarkable civil society.  See, Democracy in America, (1835, 1840).

    [18] See, e.g., Anne Applebaum, Iron Curtain:  The Crushing of Europe 1944-1956 (2012)

    [19] This original mandate set forth in Genesis 1:28 (pre-fall) is reinstituted post flood (Genesis 9:1 – post fall).  Subduing the earth and exerting dominion over it requires moral agency that coordinates and innovates unhampered by central planning or “top down” regulation.

    [20] See supra, note 8.

    [21] David L. Bahnsen, Full Time – Work and the Meaning of Life (2024)

    [22] Genesis 2:15:  working and tending the Garden comes before feasting on the Garden’s bounty.  

    [23] See supra, note 8.

    [24] See supra, note 8.