Economics is such a powerful framwork to view the world! It can help us how to get to a greater level of human flourishing by providing a means-ends framework. I even applied the economic way of thinking in my disseration to help me understand how terrorist groups operate! I look forward to chatting about anything that interests you from the policy space, to culture, religion or just about anything else!
How does Christianity fit into the Liberty sphere? Are there certain tennants of the faith that compliment the liberty philosophy? Is there anything that conflicts with liberty in the Bible, that Christian liberty-lovers have to wrestle with?
Great questions. For Christians, there seems to be an agreement that people have dignity and are image bearers and that is very consistent with a philosophy of liberty and personal agency and that this comes from scripture. I think disagreement on the left and right comes from what the proper role of the state is. Should the state redistribute wealth? Should it make prostitution illegal? These are where the battle lines get drawn among Christians. It's important to keep the economic way of thinking in sight here as we think through these things. Just because something is immoral does not mean that Christians should use the state to make it illegal. So ulimately, Christianity is not about the state but about the heart of a person. Laws against prostitution or drugs, for ex. cannot change the desires of the heart they can only affect the incentives. My own position here as a Christian economist is that we need to be very careful about what we use the state for, becuase the very power of the state can be used against many activities, it depends on the stake-holders and interest groups. In other words, the very laws a Christian may agitate for can be used against the Christian if the tides turn--public choice goes a long way to help us see this. Also, it's a question of unintended consequences and the right of others. This, in my view, is where Christians debate the scope of liberty.
Hi Dr. Bradley,
Thank you for taking the time to participate in this AMA! Do you have any favorite stories from your time working with the CIA (that you are allowed to share with us)?
Hi Jason! Ahh...there are so many. Here are a few good ones. Your first day is kind of overwhelming and scary. I had no idea what to expect. I remember getting to my cube and being given a lay of the land. At the CIA there are two trash cans for each person--one is for classified trash the other for unclassified trash. The classified bag is a large brown paper bag and when it's full you have to staple it across the top and put it in a closet. It takes a while for it to fill up the first time so it had been a few months and I needed to put it in the closet. I was told that when you do that you need to yell "Burn Bag" as you toss it in there. This is just a joke they pull on the new guys but I fell for it because you so badly don't want to do anything wrong there, or worse get written up for a security violation. So like an idiot, I opened the door while yelling "Burn Bag" and when the door was open it was just an empty closet with shelves for the bags..no yelling necessary :)
The other story is so weird. They way they do things is so bureacratic and makes no sense to me at times. There was a guy who came in every day and took out the unclassified trash but he didn't have a security clearance so literally two people walked around together--one with a clearance who yelled "Uncleared" through the cubes as they walked up and down and the other who did not have a clearance who emptied the trash. I always giggled because it is such a quiet place with no chatter and you had this guys screaming "cleared" 45843843 times when what you could have had was a cleared person doing the work. Just give the other guy a clearance so you don't have two people taking out the trash, talk about inefficiency. So bizarre....
I take it you believe that there is a theological case for economic freedom. Do you believe that this argument originates in the Bible or in the work of Christian theologists since Biblical times? Do you believe that theological support for freedom is specific to Christianity or is it more universal?
Hi David, good questions and I have written a bit on this as have others. I do beleive that Christianity provides a theology of freedom grounded in the anthropology of human creation and our responsibilities as they are detailed in Genesis. We are to steward and create and we have obligations to make contributions to human flourishing. So yes, I do think it can be found in the Bible rather than being a separate theory of economics which we apply to the Bible. I also think theological support can be found in other faiths and while I am not a theologion nor an expert on world religions, I do think that Christianity and Judaism provide a theological framework for stewardship thinking about indivdiuals as created in God's human who require freedom and agency to live into their purpose.
Where do you buy your accessories? I remember when I was in your class at The Fund for American Studies you always had the best accessories and jewelry and I would think "that's a woman who is both smart and fabulous, I want to be like that."
Hi Tricia! I love to accessorize and my fashion goal is to be as chic as possible wherever I can. I love pops of or sometimes all over color and I find the best accessories at: Stella and Dot and Jcrew! I also love good accessory finds at Target and Bauble Bar. With accessories sometimes more is better :) Fashion never takes a vacation!!
Hello, professor Bradley thank you for doing this Ask Me Anything session. What comes to your mind by thinking of the Matthew effect of accumulated advantage?
Hi David, thanks so much for this good question. The Matthew Effect is an idea that comes from the parable of the talents, in particular it refers to the verse Matthew 13:12 (NIV) which says "Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them." The phrase "Matthew Effect" was coined by a sociologist and he is applying a socieconomic meaning: the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It is an interesting perspective and not truly consistent with the rest of the passage. The Parable of the Sower is first about spiritual investment and discipleship. It's like a seed that when we nuture it, it grows and spreads. The corrollary to wealth can be true but isn't necessarily true and certainly depends upon the institutions. In the OT, most wealth was a zero-sum type of game (Theologian Walter Kaiser has a great paper on this which can be found at the Acton Institute's webpage) and zero-sum institutions do in fact mean that having wealth allows you to grow your wealth only at the expense of others, in these societies inequality is of great concern because it's as sign of exploitation. However, where you have the operation of property rights, prices, profits and losses this becomes less of a concern--because the incentives run against exploitation and toward service of others. The very societies today that depart from property rights regimes and dignity before the law remain mostly zero-sum places and we should be worried about that. Where I would depart from the notion of the Matthew Effect is to suggest that income or wealth are always necessarily about zero-sum accumulted advantage. Hope that helps!
There are many people of faith among "Progressives," including the current pope, but also other Christian denominations, not to mention other faiths. How do you approach the topic with people that "Progressivism" does not lead to individual liberty or is actually not in line with their professed religious beliefs (assuming you agree with that)? Are there books you recommend (like Defending the Free Market by Father Robert Sciroco)?
Hi Glenn, great question! I do agree that modern Progessivism as defined and claimed by the Left is neither progressive nor is it what people of Christian faith should advocate in thier defense of the poor and marginalized. I'm not sure how much individual liberty modern progressives actually want either, I suppose it depends on who you ask. I do think that the larger narrative of modern progressives is that wealth is exploitative, the rich always get richer at the expense of the poor and as Christians we have to help the poor so we need to take from the wealthy to best do that. Where I like to start here is with points of agreement. I agree with Christian progressives that we do have a clear responsibility to care for the poor. The question is how do we do that? Then I start with Genesis which gives us a lot of what we need to know to understand who we are as image-bearers and what our responsibilities are as good stewards of our talents and God's creation. It is clear in Chapters 1-2 of Genesis that we are made in the image and likeness of God and are called to fill the earth--that does not just mean evangelize and have families as is often interpreted--it means those things but also more--the call to work. Genesis 2:15 tells us we are to work the garden and care for it. God is the ultimate creator and we are sub-creators. So our job is clear: we are to use our creative gifts to cultivate God's good creation. We are to help others do this as well. This has large implications for how we think about those who are in poverty. For they too are image-bearers with gifts and talents to share, yet poverty makes this difficult, so what we are after is helping think through what will allow the poor to flourish and unleash thier human creativity on the planet. This then, calls for much more than charity (although charity is good and necessary) it requires longer-runthinking about markets and institutions and trade--these are the reforms that will set others free. At IFWE, we have written a bit on this and here are some links: https://store.tifwe.org/products/be-fruitful-and-multiply-why-economics-is-necessary-for-making-god-pleasing-decisions-digital-download and Larry Reed of FEE has written this great piece which you can find at FEE: https://fee.org/resources/rendering-unto-caesar-was-jesus-a-socialist/ and Jay Richards is a great thinker here too https://www.amazon.com/Money-Greed-God-Capitalism-Solution/dp/0061900575 I hope that helps!!
Hi Dr. Bradley! Without asking you to delve too deeply, what are some of the highlights on your dissertation on the economics of terrorism? Or perhaps the most surprising thing about incentives and terrorism?
Hi Marianne! When 9/11 occured I was in grad school at GMU and we were so close to the Pentagon. I remember that day well as we all watched TV in stunned silence and in tears. My professor, Charles Rowley, who was at the time the editor of the journal Public Choice, decided shortly after 9/11 to dedicate a special issue of the journal to an economic look at terrorism. In that issue, he and I co-authored a paper, and I became fascinated and a bit frightened. We knew that the policy response would be quick and not well thought out so I decided to think about an economic perspective of al-Qaeda. My first assumption is that the terrorists were rational, not just crazies as we were repeatedly told on the news. They were purposeful and had a plan and most importantly they respond to incentives. If that was correct, then we could have a conversation about what would change thier incentives? My view was that the reactionary policy, which is somewhat understandeable, really focused only on the supply of terrorist and the Patriot Act largely represented effects to deter supply (TSA at airports, for ex). Even the invasion of Afghanistan which some might claim was a longer-term effort to change the country into a better place with fewer terrorists didn't really help me understand what he demand for terrorism looks like. As economists we know that supply exists to satisfy demand and my view is that this is true for AQ. So getting demand shifts is the key and that tends to be much more difficult that using policy to affect supply. I think this is true for ISIS today. Institutional reform and a change in ideas is what is required and often these cannot be forced via policy measures. Afghanistan will get "better" i.e, have more Economic Freedom and Polticial Freedom when the values those things require: property rights, rule of law, freedom of the person, etc take hold and I think more trade rather than less is a step in the right direction but this is often lost or outright dismissed in the space of foriegn policy. I think we need to bring the eocnomic way of thinking into that conversation.
Who is your favorite economist and why? Thanks!
Hi Dan! I hate to have to choose just one, but since you asked I would say F.A. Hayek. And to be honest, there is no Hayek without Mises so Mises is probably more important but I came to Hayek first and that may be part of it. Also, Hayek really had an important role in the debates around central planning and socialism that had great impact around the globe. I think his work on decentralized knowledge and spontaneous order though, is what drew me into economics so I give Hayek credit for that. I will say though that my sweet Newfoundland is named after Elinor Ostrom who I admire a great deal as well as, of course, the work of Adam Smith.
Dr. Bradley--what is the most persuasive argument you've heard that the poor and disadvantage need a large welfare state? How might you have been successful in challenging that argument? Thanks!
Hi Richard, For me, the most persuasive is this: we must help the poor and the state has the resources do it. I do think this is compelling for several reasons: I agree that we have a moral obligation to the poor (although I would not expect everyone to agree with that statement but I think most do) and I also agree that the state does have a great deal of resources. It's the kind of thing that sounds good and sounds reasonable; it looks good on paper. It is however, the seen. I think the underbelly of US anti-poverty programs is not only a disaster but has led to extremely immoral outcomes. I think the key to challenging this is to say: "OK, sounds good, but does it work?" Economics keeps us accountable to outcomes not just ideas about what sounds good. I think making the clear and demonstrable case that Federal and State anti-poverty programs and actually pro-poverty (in that they don't end poverty and they trap the very folks we want to un-trap) is not only a moral story but it's a true story. I think this is what it will take to get people on the side of not just coerced "aid" but private aid + economic growth and opportunity for everyone. When you tell stories of how food stamps disempower families and how aid benefits incentivize single-parent households we can see how anti-community these programs are. And it's not because the folks designing or dispensing welfare are ammoral jerks. It's because we look for quick fixes and only focus on what we see in the short term. When we can shine a light on the damage that actually falls upon our fellow human beings, I think we can really get some momentum for a better way forward.
Hello, professor Bradley, thank you for your answers. Is there any new economics concepts you are using in your work? Are you using game theory?
Hi David, I haven't yet used game theory for some of these ideas but I certainly think I could. I generally use the analytical narrative to talk through these things and the most important concepts in my works are: human action, comparative advantage, commercial exchange, economic freedom, inequality and its metrics and well as economic growth. I also think stories and examples are powerful for discussing and teaching these things.
Thanks for your time here, Professor Bradley. Among the many tributes to Jesus for his contributions to freedom and free markets, I like this one by long-time voluntaryist, Spencer MacCallum, inspired by his grandfather, Spencer Heath. http://libertarianchristians.com/2017/08/30/wakeup-call-teacher-galilee-seer/?mccid=94d6886177&mceid=1a03193e0e
What do you think?
Hi NEd, thanks for sharing this. It provides a great perspective. It resonates with Genesis 2:15 where God tells us to work the garden and care for it. We are always in action, always improving. And "work" is translated in the original Hebrew as "abad" which means to serve. So it's not just about consuming it's about serving and market economies foster the service not just of our neighbor or friends but of strangers. We only grow better off when we identify the needs of others and seek to solve those problems. So I see a lot of this in the piece you shared.