Vocation & economic productivity

Greg Forster, in the context of a discussion about Europe’s economic woes, makes some fascinating connections between the doctrine of vocation and economic productivity:

A historically unprecedented phenomenon has been unfolding—in Europe for the past five centuries, in America for the past two, and more recently everywhere across the globe except sub-Sarahan Africa. That phenomenon is explosive economic growth. After millennia of basically stagnant wealth levels from the earliest recorded history forward, God’s world is at last beginning to flourish economically.

Just in the past two decades, the percentage of the population in the developing world that lives in dire poverty (less than $1 a day) has been cut in half. Contemplate that for a moment.

This economic flourishing was originally produced by a confluence of factors, the most important of which was Christianity. Late medieval Christianity developed an increasing emphasis on universal human dignity and (consequently) the intrinsic goodness of economic activity. The Reformation dramatically expanded these trends and added critical new dimensions—especially the idea that your daily work is a calling from God and the primary way God makes human civilizations flourish.

All this culminated in cultures that made productivity—improving the lives of others by responding to their authentic needs—central to both individual and national identity. Scriptural treatment of this topic is extensive.Everything from the image of God to the Trinity to the prophets and parables is implicated in understanding productivity.

Christians believe human beings are made in the image of a Father who creates from nothing; this explains why human work creates wealth rather than just moving it around. Christians believe in a divine Son who joined in mystical union with temporal and material humanity. Material activities like economic work are not separate from, and inferior to, “spiritual” activities. And Christians believe in a Spirit who liberates us from selfishness; this explains why life works best when people orient their daily lives around serving others.

The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

Where this happens, economics is reduced to the purely material. If the proper economic goal for individuals is to enjoy leisure rather than to be productive, then of course voters should demand endless, unsustainable entitlement programs. If the fundamental purpose of business is to make money rather than to serve customers, then of course businesses should game the system to enrich themselves—and nations can try to get rich by playing games with the money supply.

The idea that policy should encourage financial rewards for productivity, and culture should set the expectation of productive work from all who are able, simply makes no sense in this context. Once you forget the Creator, you quickly forget that wealth needs to be created.

via Productive for the Glory of God, Good of Neighbors – The Gospel Coalition Blog.

Follow the links.  (There is even one to something I wrote on vocation.)

HT:  Justin Taylor

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pingback: Great piece on Christian vocation and economy...

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  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Well done article. And it’s true: when one develops a “right to wealth,” then one undermines the ability to produce such wealth.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Well done article. And it’s true: when one develops a “right to wealth,” then one undermines the ability to produce such wealth.

  • Steve Billingsley

    It also highlights what “wealth” actually is. Wealth is created when something of use is produced for humanity. So much of the “wealth” in the West is based upon complex investment instruments that have very little to do with actual goods and services. The further the investment vehicle is distanced from the production of goods and services, the more of a house of cards that vehicle is. This is what doomed the “junk bonds” of the 80′s, the “.com bubble” stocks of the 90′s and the “mortgage based derivatives” of the 00′s. They were funny money based on nothing of tangible value and they all inflated and then collapsed. True production of wealth is absolutely tied to vocation because human flourishing is based upon people working to provide goods and services that truly help others.

  • Steve Billingsley

    It also highlights what “wealth” actually is. Wealth is created when something of use is produced for humanity. So much of the “wealth” in the West is based upon complex investment instruments that have very little to do with actual goods and services. The further the investment vehicle is distanced from the production of goods and services, the more of a house of cards that vehicle is. This is what doomed the “junk bonds” of the 80′s, the “.com bubble” stocks of the 90′s and the “mortgage based derivatives” of the 00′s. They were funny money based on nothing of tangible value and they all inflated and then collapsed. True production of wealth is absolutely tied to vocation because human flourishing is based upon people working to provide goods and services that truly help others.

  • DonS

    Good summary of the historical roots of the current prosperity of the western world, and insight as to how post-modernism and complacency are beginning to erode our productivity, and thus our economic well being. We are a generation riding on the shoulders of our productive forebears, with a strong sense of entitlement and no concept of the fragility of prosperity in this fallen world.

    The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

    Bingo! Substitute “American” for “European”, because the statement applies o us as well. In the name of vote pandering, our politicians lead not by inspiration, but rather by engendering class envy — inspiring the notion that your lot can improve, not by your own efforts but by electing politicians who will enact laws to extract wealth from your neighbor and give it to you. An attitude which is corrosive to societal harmony, and which discourages the very productive activity which would best ensure the continued well being of all.

  • DonS

    Good summary of the historical roots of the current prosperity of the western world, and insight as to how post-modernism and complacency are beginning to erode our productivity, and thus our economic well being. We are a generation riding on the shoulders of our productive forebears, with a strong sense of entitlement and no concept of the fragility of prosperity in this fallen world.

    The problem is, too many Europeans now take wealth for granted. Some have forgotten where it came from—productive work—and feel like they’re entitled to it by birthright. More to the point, the people and institutions in authority have irresponsibly indulged this attitude (for various reasons, such as vote-buying) and have thereby anointed it as culturally accepted.

    Bingo! Substitute “American” for “European”, because the statement applies o us as well. In the name of vote pandering, our politicians lead not by inspiration, but rather by engendering class envy — inspiring the notion that your lot can improve, not by your own efforts but by electing politicians who will enact laws to extract wealth from your neighbor and give it to you. An attitude which is corrosive to societal harmony, and which discourages the very productive activity which would best ensure the continued well being of all.

  • Bob

    I agree with Don S.

    The reason Americans can’t find work for decent pay is that greed has overtaken us — and it started with our politicians, in bed with the large banks and other “too big to fail” institutions.

    The government decided to fund “too big to fail” groups to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. The lack of regulation post-Reagan led to the great Wall Street crash that we’re still suffering from, although the numbers are getting better.

    Class disparity right now is real. Look at the evidence — I know, facts are stubborn things. Income inequality is worse in the modern U.S. than in Ancient Rome. It’s been encouraged by legislation, most or all of it from the Republicans.

    Add to that a group of intransigent ideologues that have publicly (and foolishly) said that their only agenda is to get rid of Barack Obama. They want the economy to fail. In a manner, they’re holding the country hostage right now.

    I hope they’re enjoying their 8 percent approval rating and searching for another line of work after next November.

    “In the United States, the top 1 percent controls roughly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. According to the study, which examined Roman ledgers, previous estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages, Rome’s top 1 percent controlled less than half that at the height of its economic power…”

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/12/19/391998/income-inequality-rome/

  • Bob

    I agree with Don S.

    The reason Americans can’t find work for decent pay is that greed has overtaken us — and it started with our politicians, in bed with the large banks and other “too big to fail” institutions.

    The government decided to fund “too big to fail” groups to the tune of billions and billions of dollars. The lack of regulation post-Reagan led to the great Wall Street crash that we’re still suffering from, although the numbers are getting better.

    Class disparity right now is real. Look at the evidence — I know, facts are stubborn things. Income inequality is worse in the modern U.S. than in Ancient Rome. It’s been encouraged by legislation, most or all of it from the Republicans.

    Add to that a group of intransigent ideologues that have publicly (and foolishly) said that their only agenda is to get rid of Barack Obama. They want the economy to fail. In a manner, they’re holding the country hostage right now.

    I hope they’re enjoying their 8 percent approval rating and searching for another line of work after next November.

    “In the United States, the top 1 percent controls roughly 40 percent of the nation’s wealth. According to the study, which examined Roman ledgers, previous estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages, Rome’s top 1 percent controlled less than half that at the height of its economic power…”

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/12/19/391998/income-inequality-rome/

  • Joe

    Bob – Carter (not Reagan) started the “deregulation” (or more accurately “different regulation”) of which you speak.

  • Joe

    Bob – Carter (not Reagan) started the “deregulation” (or more accurately “different regulation”) of which you speak.

  • SAL

    Labor and the fruits of labor are the two elements necessary for human flourishing.

    The problem with the welfare state is that it severs the link between labor and the fruits of labor. Capitalism does the same thing. Communism does too.

    However a free market system (not capitalism) will maintain such a link and provide the most beneficial system for the most people.

  • SAL

    Labor and the fruits of labor are the two elements necessary for human flourishing.

    The problem with the welfare state is that it severs the link between labor and the fruits of labor. Capitalism does the same thing. Communism does too.

    However a free market system (not capitalism) will maintain such a link and provide the most beneficial system for the most people.

  • Lou G.

    Excellent article. Great post. Awesome comments! This needs to be trumpeted loudly, repeatedly.. Thanks Dr. Veith!

  • Lou G.

    Excellent article. Great post. Awesome comments! This needs to be trumpeted loudly, repeatedly.. Thanks Dr. Veith!

  • Rose

    There’s another factor to consider: feminism. “Feminism and the Entitlement Society” is an article yet to be written. Here’s the premise: After Eden, women were entitled to share in the fruit of their husband’s labor. Then women succumbed to the second temptation of Eve (whispered by feminists): “You shall be like men”. And they were faced with the the risks and demanding work that Adam traditionally shouldered. Politically, many women looked to government to take away this responsibility . They were seduced by politicians who told them they were entitled to the fruit of others’ labor.

  • Rose

    There’s another factor to consider: feminism. “Feminism and the Entitlement Society” is an article yet to be written. Here’s the premise: After Eden, women were entitled to share in the fruit of their husband’s labor. Then women succumbed to the second temptation of Eve (whispered by feminists): “You shall be like men”. And they were faced with the the risks and demanding work that Adam traditionally shouldered. Politically, many women looked to government to take away this responsibility . They were seduced by politicians who told them they were entitled to the fruit of others’ labor.

  • Tom Hering

    “You shall be like men”? Really? How about “You aren’t less than men”? Feminism was a reaction to something – to the way women were spoken of, spoken to, and treated. You don’t have to watch too much retro TV from the 1950s and ’60s (something I’m a fan of) to find yourself cringing at what used to be acceptable.

  • Tom Hering

    “You shall be like men”? Really? How about “You aren’t less than men”? Feminism was a reaction to something – to the way women were spoken of, spoken to, and treated. You don’t have to watch too much retro TV from the 1950s and ’60s (something I’m a fan of) to find yourself cringing at what used to be acceptable.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Tom @9
    I agree with you regarding much of the tone in popular culture toward women. Perhaps my favorite writer, C.S. Lewis – wrote some of the most cringe-worthy statements of all time in his works of popular apologetics (his statements regarding pretty girls and the misery they spread in “Mere Christianity” are spectacular in their sheer idiocy). But I would note that in popular culture the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Over the past 20 years or so what has been the most reliable portrayal of men in sitcoms? Either the “lovable idiot” or the “saracastic scumbag”. Feminism was a reaction, but like most reactions – it has its valid points and it’s overreactions.

  • Steve Billingsley

    Tom @9
    I agree with you regarding much of the tone in popular culture toward women. Perhaps my favorite writer, C.S. Lewis – wrote some of the most cringe-worthy statements of all time in his works of popular apologetics (his statements regarding pretty girls and the misery they spread in “Mere Christianity” are spectacular in their sheer idiocy). But I would note that in popular culture the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Over the past 20 years or so what has been the most reliable portrayal of men in sitcoms? Either the “lovable idiot” or the “saracastic scumbag”. Feminism was a reaction, but like most reactions – it has its valid points and it’s overreactions.

  • Tom Hering

    Steve, I don’t think the contemporary portrayal of men on TV can be blamed on Feminism. After all, most writers, directors, and producers are men. If we’re talking about sitcoms, we’re talking about comedies, and the basis of any comedy is the portrayal of persons with comic flaws (Aristotle). So I’d lay the blame on the change in our culture, i.e., it’s now acceptable to deal with deeper flaws – things the standards departments at the networks wouldn’t have allowed in the 1950s and ’60s. Whether those deeper flaws are being portrayed in truly funny ways is another matter. :-D

  • Tom Hering

    Steve, I don’t think the contemporary portrayal of men on TV can be blamed on Feminism. After all, most writers, directors, and producers are men. If we’re talking about sitcoms, we’re talking about comedies, and the basis of any comedy is the portrayal of persons with comic flaws (Aristotle). So I’d lay the blame on the change in our culture, i.e., it’s now acceptable to deal with deeper flaws – things the standards departments at the networks wouldn’t have allowed in the 1950s and ’60s. Whether those deeper flaws are being portrayed in truly funny ways is another matter. :-D

  • Rose

    Fellows, The deconstruction of the family began with Archie Bunker, the father as fool. Norman Lear (and his apologist Martin Marty) made a name for himself. Things formerly immoral were made into sitcom scripts (Maude had an abortion on TV).
    Children began to be portrayed as the level headed family problem solvers, rather than their parents. This allowed the parents to believe kids are independent and grown up, so the parents can go and play and amuse themselves–no parenting needed. This was exposed in David Elkind’s The Hurried Child, which so angered feminists that he stopped talking about this phenomenon of hurrying kids to be adults.
    Women in the 50s and 60s were treated and respected so much more than now. There were exceptions, but now the respected woman is the exception. A mess of pottage.

  • Rose

    Fellows, The deconstruction of the family began with Archie Bunker, the father as fool. Norman Lear (and his apologist Martin Marty) made a name for himself. Things formerly immoral were made into sitcom scripts (Maude had an abortion on TV).
    Children began to be portrayed as the level headed family problem solvers, rather than their parents. This allowed the parents to believe kids are independent and grown up, so the parents can go and play and amuse themselves–no parenting needed. This was exposed in David Elkind’s The Hurried Child, which so angered feminists that he stopped talking about this phenomenon of hurrying kids to be adults.
    Women in the 50s and 60s were treated and respected so much more than now. There were exceptions, but now the respected woman is the exception. A mess of pottage.

  • Lou G.

    If we must introduce feminism into this otherwise awesome and excellent topic, then I would prefer to read Dr. Veith’s application of his doctrine of Vocation to womem. I mean if we have three spheres of vocation, church, home, government/society, then certianly those areas of vocation apply to both men and women. Of course, it may make sense that the range of roles and contributions ought to differ, perhaps. But, does it really make sense to say that woman are strictly limited to the home as certain fundamentalists are prone to say? No. It does not.

    So, all of this to say, I would love to read Dr. Veith’s take on the doctrine of vocation, as it specifically applies to women.

  • Lou G.

    If we must introduce feminism into this otherwise awesome and excellent topic, then I would prefer to read Dr. Veith’s application of his doctrine of Vocation to womem. I mean if we have three spheres of vocation, church, home, government/society, then certianly those areas of vocation apply to both men and women. Of course, it may make sense that the range of roles and contributions ought to differ, perhaps. But, does it really make sense to say that woman are strictly limited to the home as certain fundamentalists are prone to say? No. It does not.

    So, all of this to say, I would love to read Dr. Veith’s take on the doctrine of vocation, as it specifically applies to women.

  • Martin J.

    Doctrine of vocation for women?
    How ’bout this?

    “An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
    The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
    She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
    She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
    She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
    She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
    She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

    She dresses herself with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
    She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
    She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
    She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
    She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
    She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
    Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
    She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
    Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
    She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
    She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
    Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
    “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
    Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
    Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.”

    (Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)

  • Martin J.

    Doctrine of vocation for women?
    How ’bout this?

    “An excellent wife who can find?
    She is far more precious than jewels.
    The heart of her husband trusts in her,
    and he will have no lack of gain.
    She does him good, and not harm,
    all the days of her life.
    She seeks wool and flax,
    and works with willing hands.
    She is like the ships of the merchant;
    she brings her food from afar.
    She rises while it is yet night
    and provides food for her household
    and portions for her maidens.
    She considers a field and buys it;
    with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.

    She dresses herself with strength
    and makes her arms strong.
    She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
    Her lamp does not go out at night.
    She puts her hands to the distaff,
    and her hands hold the spindle.
    She opens her hand to the poor
    and reaches out her hands to the needy.
    She is not afraid of snow for her household,
    for all her household are clothed in scarlet.
    She makes bed coverings for herself;
    her clothing is fine linen and purple.
    Her husband is known in the gates
    when he sits among the elders of the land.
    She makes linen garments and sells them;
    she delivers sashes to the merchant.
    Strength and dignity are her clothing,
    and she laughs at the time to come.
    She opens her mouth with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
    She looks well to the ways of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
    Her children rise up and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
    “Many women have done excellently,
    but you surpass them all.”
    Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
    but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.
    Give her of the fruit of her hands,
    and let her works praise her in the gates.”

    (Proverbs 31:10-31 ESV)

  • http://ozconservative.blogspot.com Mark Richardson

    It’s difficult to reconcile feminism and Christianity. Feminism is based on the idea that what matters most is that we are unimpeded in asserting our self-sovereign, autonomous will. The aim of politics becomes to remove impediments to this autonomous will; exactly what feminists aim for varies, but many feminists have identified motherhood as an impediment (a merely biological destiny); marriage (fear of dependence on a husband); traditional forms of sexual morality (a restriction on choice); and a lack of access to abortion (which is thought to limit bodily autonomy).

  • http://ozconservative.blogspot.com Mark Richardson

    It’s difficult to reconcile feminism and Christianity. Feminism is based on the idea that what matters most is that we are unimpeded in asserting our self-sovereign, autonomous will. The aim of politics becomes to remove impediments to this autonomous will; exactly what feminists aim for varies, but many feminists have identified motherhood as an impediment (a merely biological destiny); marriage (fear of dependence on a husband); traditional forms of sexual morality (a restriction on choice); and a lack of access to abortion (which is thought to limit bodily autonomy).

  • Rose

    Mark, Very well said. Thank you.

  • Rose

    Mark, Very well said. Thank you.

  • Martin J.

    I agree Mark and would simply add that it is equally difficult to reconcile oppressive treatment of women with Christianity.
    The narrative of scripture is superior to either of these wrong responses.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Martin J.

    I agree Mark and would simply add that it is equally difficult to reconcile oppressive treatment of women with Christianity.
    The narrative of scripture is superior to either of these wrong responses.

    Merry Christmas!

  • Martin J.

    Oh sorry, Mark. Nothing that you wrote implies oppressive treatment, btw. I hope you understand my comment in #17 as pertaining to other, false characterizations, and not to your position as stated in 15. thnx, Merry Christmas!

  • Martin J.

    Oh sorry, Mark. Nothing that you wrote implies oppressive treatment, btw. I hope you understand my comment in #17 as pertaining to other, false characterizations, and not to your position as stated in 15. thnx, Merry Christmas!

  • Tom Hering

    You know, there’s plenty to be condemned in any movement, including the spread of Christianity (sometimes at sword’s point), and the Church as institution (sometimes more immoral or oppressive than the world). The basic proposition of Feminism, “women are not lesser beings than men,” is entirely defensible.

  • Tom Hering

    You know, there’s plenty to be condemned in any movement, including the spread of Christianity (sometimes at sword’s point), and the Church as institution (sometimes more immoral or oppressive than the world). The basic proposition of Feminism, “women are not lesser beings than men,” is entirely defensible.


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