The evangelical world is at no shortage for books explaining why or how Christians should help the poor. It is no longer an argument if Christians should engage in ministries and activities that promote justice and help the poor, now the argument is how we should go about doing that.
In The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, theologian Wayne Grudem teams up with economist Barry Asmus to provide a theological, economically literate manifesto explaining how to best relieve poverty on the national level.
After hearing that Wayne Grudem published a book on alleviating poverty, I was intrigued from the start because I greatly value the clear and balanced biblical perspective he brings to theology and because I have not heard of any similar books being written with a Christian perspective.
Grudem and Asmus explain their focus on the first page of the introduction:
We focus on national laws, national economic policies, and national cultural values and habits because we are convinced that the primary causes of poverty are factors that affect an entire nation.
The book serves as a crash course on macroeconomics from a classical perspective and shares harsh realities for many Keynesian ideas. The authors systematically explain their economic views by explaining the goal that will truly help nations out of poverty: being a nation that creates more goods and services and increases the overall GDP. This is a principle they refer back to again and again, and is very helpful in exposing errors in flawed economic theories and avoiding good intentions that lead to harmful results (that is so common in discussions on poverty).
Grudem and Asmus explain through 78 principles what enables a country to escape poverty. Since poverty is complex, these solutions are not silver-bullet answers to the problem, but rather areas countries should consider when seeking maximum prosperity and GDP growth. The book explains economic systems that work and lead to wealth production, which is what should really be the goal rather than “fixing poverty.” Grudem and Asmus make a case for the free market (and its morality), small government, and economic liberty for individuals and countries.
Many Christians want to help the poor, but have no idea that some common ways can cause more damage than good, even if they have good intentions (i.e. “just send more money to poor countries,” raising minimum wage, or even selling fair trade coffee).
In a world where much economical and political talk is based on emotional arguments and name calling, it is encouraging to see Grudem and Asmus clearly teach and apply the intersection of theology and economics, while remembering the limited resources available (to persons and countries) and the importance of measuring intentions with actual (and not intended) results.
Overall, Grudem and Asmus present a well-researched, well-documented, theologically and economically sound treatise that will influence many with its clear explanations, useful illustrations, and straightforward common sense approach. The Poverty of Nations is a refreshing addition to the Christian library of books on helping the poor. It sets itself apart from many books by not relying on feel good or guilt-ridden ideas, but rather backs up their ideas with biblical principles, economic theory, and hard evidence.
It is more a textbook than a light read, but pressing on through the 78 principles for bringing nations out of poverty will inform thinking and hopefully transform action. I hope the authors get their ultimate wish for the book: for it to fall into the hands of the leaders of developing countries and play a role in setting their countries on the path from poverty to wealth creation.
This book is a good complement to the highly recommend book When Helping Hurts: How to Aleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself that addresses poverty alleviation at the individual and community level.
I would highly recommend this book to those studying economics, working with NGOs and non-profits, along with Christians who truly wants to help the poor. It should be mandatory reading for all Christian students studying economics, specifically economic development.