Monday, April 21, 2014

The Poverty of Nations

'The Poverty of Nations - A Sustainable Solution' by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus is a difficult read for me. I'm not a trained economist. Whatever I understand of economics stopped at A'levels, and whatever else learnt is via the necessity of writing work papers and other types of research. It took ages to read this book. Couldn't complete it in one sitting. As the pages were turned, often, I find my objective analysis clouded by a social perspective.

The book examines poverty and inequalities, economic successes and political frameworks of the countries. It's strongly tied to theological ideals and mindset. While I didn't mind that, I found that the voices in the book possess a rather narrow engagement with its professed brand of free-market capitalism. As it is with all economists who hold bias of economic theories, this book also pushes for their believed direction and pushes out the rest of alternative theories and frameworks. I.e, contrast this book with Jeff Sachs' 'The End of Poverty', a line that the authors Grudem and Asmus clearly disagree with. Also, take some time to read David Landes' macroeconomic view in 'The Wealth and Poverty of Nations'.

It's certainly an interesting manner how the authors link the biblical passages to economic theories. But for every one they used, they conveniently missed out other passages. The Gospels are hardly mentioned; almost nothing said about the Old Testament. I wouldn't have realized this but for the recent zealous bible reading during Lent, and hence, referencing the book's quotes. I don't presume to know the Bible well. It's a lifelong study. But at this age, there're certain opinions I can hold without prejudice.

The issue of poverty is real, painful and urgent. Every solution is welcomed. It's not just a Christian issue. It's every nation's responsibility and thought to take care of it, and to a great extent, it's expected of every citizen in a first-world economy to remember the existence of poverty and to do something about it. It's just a matter of which model we choose to adopt. Sounds familiar? The one chapter that intrigued me is the almost controversial Chapter 9- 'The Values of the System - Cultural Beliefs that will Encourage Economic Growth'. Grudem and Asmus propose,

The most effective way to do this, and the only way that will bring long-term change to a nation, is to persuade people to change any cultural and traditions that are hindering economic development. If these beliefs and traditions can be replaced with new ones that promote economic growth, the nation will change. 
These cultural values are therefore the most strategic matters that we discuss in this book, because they will ultimately determine all the other factors. The cultural values of a nation determine what kind of economic system it adopts, what kinds of laws and policies the government enacts, whether corruption is tolerated, whether freedoms are protected, and what kinds of goals individuals set for their personal lives. It is important, therefore, to understand exactly what kinds of cultural values lead a nation to support the kinds of economic and governmental systems we described in earlier chapters.

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