Embracing Economic Liberty: A Commitment to Justice and Mercy

by Mar 28, 2013

I recently published a paper by the title above online at www.tifwe.org. The paper is a synthesis of a good deal of things that I have been working on over the course of the last 10-20 years. I think it came out well. The following is an executive summary of that article followed by a link to it.

Throughout human history two views of humanity have competed with one another for dominance in how society should be structured. One view holds that people must be ruled over and directed by others in order to secure the blessings of civilization. This is a top-down approach. The other view holds that people are created in the image of God and are, hence, individually sovereign in the affairs of their own lives. Thus society emerges from the voluntary interaction of people. The former view invariably leads to the rise of overlords, tyrants, and despots who arrogantly impose themselves on other people to the greater detriment of human well-being. The latter view recognizes the magnificence of human nature even in its current fallen state. In that regard, the highest level of civilization can only be obtained in a world where individual freedom of human action is affirmed and defended. As such, institutional government’s role in society is limited in nature and is aimed at securing the peace by defending the rights of the individual.

The purpose of this paper is to explain and defend this proposition. This is done by examining what it means to bear the image of God within the context of a real world environment in which human beings live. When we think of the material nature of this world we inhabit, we are immediately required to consider the fundamental principles of economics that were imposed upon us by our Creator. Our denial of these constraints has led to countless abuses of authority and power over the ages and has wreaked havoc on the lives of literally billions of people. It is, therefore, crucial that a sound understanding of such principles is the right starting point for any serious discussion of political economy. The most fundamental economic principle recognizes that people act with purpose to achieve their self-defined ends utilizing the means at hand. Since the means available to us to achieve our ends are always limited relative to the ends we imagine, we must choose how to employ the means we possess at any moment and each choice carries with it a cost. There is no escape from this principle.

Following a thorough explanation of this principle, the paper proceeds by considering the problems, and the potential solutions, associated with the sinful fall of humanity. Certainly, the presence of evil in this world has plagued humanity throughout the ages, thus raising the question, what can be done? Moreover, it is also certainly true that the rise of institutional government is the result of the fall. But, what is the role of government in society? In this paper, it is argued that the role of government is relatively limited. Namely, the purpose of government is to punish those who would transgress the individual rights of his neighbor in overly destructive ways. Its aim is to secure a relative degree of peace that might not be had otherwise. In the realm of economics, justice requires the protection and defense of private property since human action in a material world necessarily results in the creation of such property. It is not the government’s duty to provide sustenance for the people nor even to promote fraternity and brotherhood among the populace since that is something that it cannot do. In vain would the authorities attempt to force people to love one another since any attempt to do that must result in government action that destroys the rights of some for the benefit of others.

Having established the nature of justice, attention is then turned to the issue of economic mercy. It will be argued that charity is a voluntary act. In essence, charity is the voluntary sacrifice made by one person for the benefit of another person. As such, it cannot be forced. Therefore, it is important to think clearly about the nature of love and mercy and to carefully define these terms. It is true that a good society will be marked by many acts of human graciousness and mercy. But, it is also true that this cannot be mandated by the legal code. Such efforts are foolish and lead only to the destruction of civilization itself. Thus, a sound understanding of political economy will recognize the interplay between the issues of justice and mercy.

This leads to the paper’s ultimate conclusion that the interplay of these two issues of life are resolved in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Unabashedly, the argument is made that Jesus alone is the Son of God. That is, in the person of Jesus we find a unique human being. He was indeed God incarnate. Unlike the rest of us, he lived a perfectly righteous life of harmony with all other human beings. Moreover, as a man, he recognized the ultimate authority of God in his life and lived in submission to that authority. In his death he provided an atoning sacrifice for the unrighteous. By earning a perfect standing before God, and by paying the penalty for sin, Jesus alone earned a position. Namely, he is the King. Moreover, he can show mercy to whomever he chooses to show mercy and he can judge whomever he chooses to judge. Therefore, he is our example. Followers of Christ are admonished to act justly toward everyone they come into contact with and to participate in acts of mercy toward others as evidence that they understand the mercy that he has shown them.


Paul Cleveland

Boundary Stone was started by Dr. Paul Cleveland. Working as a professor for over 35 years has allowed him to study and think deeply about issues of political economy. He has discovered ways to communicate these sometimes illusive concepts to today's students, often through story telling, which makes understanding these principles more accessible to all of us.


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