If you have any money at all, haven’t you read Saint Francis of Assisi? Don’t you know Mother Teresa? Many people would say, “If you have any money at all and there are poor people, you should give it all away.” Or maybe, you know some people who would say, “Of course not. You earned it. You earned it honestly. Why couldn’t you keep it? Help some people. Tithe, of course, to your church. Give to the Boy Scouts, buy Girl Scout cookies. But of course, you can keep, it’s your money as a steward from God,” something like that. Or maybe you were probably in between those, saying, “Well, I think some riches are okay. I’m just not quite sure how many or where I tip over. I don’t think I should be in poverty, because I do have a job, but I don’t know how much is too much.” And even if we look at the Bible, we find, well, there’s Job. Job was a wealthy man. In fact, God gave him twice as much at the end as he started out with, so there must not be a problem. But Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor.” And I don’t know if you’ve ever walked by a poor person on the street and they’re looking for a hand-out and say, “I’m so sorry. I can’t give anything to you. I don’t want to take away your blessing from Jesus, okay. I’m afflicted with riches and I’m not blessed because I’m not poor.”
So, even the Bible can sometimes be confusing about how we sort that out. That’s what we’re going to try to do tonight, and we’ll have some time at the end for Q&A. Here’s our agenda. First of all, I just want to establish for you how much the world has changed. If you’ll indulge me, I used to teach economics to MBAs at Indiana Wesleyan University, which is well represented here tonight. Welcome. And we’re going to talk about the new economic environment. Also, we’re going to talk about how to frame this question between righteousness and riches and wealth, and talk about a little bit on economic game theory, just enough to equip you for us to look primarily at the biblical data. We’re going to look at… Well, we’ll spend the bulk of our time looking at the biblical data, to try to answer that and bring some conclusions at the end before Q&A.
How has the world changed? I have a daughter who is 15 years old. A billion people have been added to the planet in her lifetime. The population of the world has doubled in my lifetime.Here’s our plan. How has the world changed? This is the population of the world. From the beginning of time, here’s Adam and Eve expressed in billions. And so here we have the time of King David, 50 million people in the world. The time of the Roman Empire, still under three tenths of a billion. We crossed a billion about the time of the Industrial Revolution. And I have a daughter who is 15 years old. A billion people have been added to the planet in her lifetime. The population of the world has doubled in my lifetime. And so I love to show this slide, because it scares that the bejeebees out of people. People say, “We’re going to run out of food. We’re going to run out of oil. We’re going to run out of everything. It’s hard to find a place to park already.”
And on the other hand, this is not just a slide that scares people, this is a slide that separates people. How you view this is like a Rorschach test. If you see this, you might be afraid. But some of you might have a mission’s background or a global vision and say, “Wait a minute. Part of the point was to be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over animals. That’s from the very first chapter of my Bible. And it looks like, hey, we’re doing a pretty good job and we’re getting around to it, for the first time in human history.” In my daughter’s generation, a billion people have been born, and it took all of history up to that time, to get to that first, up to 1810 to get that first billion. Maybe you might be scared or maybe you might say, “This is great.” And we have some entrepreneurs back there. I can see they pulled out their calculators, like, “These are markets. These are people who need shoes and houses and cars. This is an incredible opportunity like never before in the history of mankind.”
People say, “We’re going to run out of food. We’re going to run out of oil. We’re going to run out of everything. It’s hard to find a place to park already.”So this is either terrible news or good news or an incredible missiology challenge. But even so, will we run out of food? And let’s just talk about this. I used to teach economics, this is a slide that tells economists that, “No, we’re not going to run out of food.” This says that, “The rate of meat and cereal production is increasing faster than population, so we’re okay.” But mostly, there’s only two economists in the back. They’re smiling.
Let me just tell you a story of how we’re not going to run out of food. And this is from The Wall Street Journal, this week. This is a story of two chickens. One chicken was born in 1930. One chicken was born in 2015. And so I didn’t have a real picture of a 1930 chicken, but I think that’s probably what they would have looked like. [laughter] I used to live in Spain, and that is exactly what our chickens looked like when we bought them there.
So, what’s going on with these two chickens? Well, our 1930 chicken average weight was two-and-a-half pounds, but through genetic breeding, better food, better living conditions and so forth, our 2015 chicken weighs on average six-and-a-quarter pounds. So just the breast meat of the modern chicken weighs more than the entire bird in 1930. And so that’s good. Will we run out of food? I don’t think so. We’re breeding chickens better.
And by the way, look at this. The 1930 chicken required more than 40 days to gain one pound. So to get it to two-and-a-half pounds, it was like a three-month lifetime for that chicken. That’s a lot of feed, that’s a lot of care, and so forth. Now, the bird puts on a pound almost every week. So 48 days, so you get a bigger bird in less time. And the entrepreneurs are back there doing their math going, “That’s just very profitable. That’s good.” People want to breed your birds like this. And so why would we run out of food when you can improve the very chicken itself?
Let me just give you one more food example here. And this is about low hanging fruit. Some of you have been to business school. You probably heard about low hanging fruit, something like that. In fact, I have a slide for you. This is the economists’… This is from The New York Times, the number of occurrences, and the dates are broke off the bottom. I’m sorry, but this is low hanging fruit compared to easy pickings, shoot fish in a barrel, easy as pie. And suddenly in the late 2000s, we’ve had a lot of people talking about low hanging fruit in The New York Times. But that’s economists. Let’s go back to the story.
It turns out it doesn’t make sense. In fact, it never did make sense. When you’re picking an apple tree, apple trees traditionally have been 20 to 30 feet high. You put a bag over your shoulder, a ladder into the tree. And if you pick the low fruit, then you have to carry it with you up to the top. It doesn’t make sense to pick the low fruit. You go and pick the top fruit. And as you climb down the ladder, then you fill up your bag, and then you’re done. You get fired if you’re a picker and you only pick the low hanging fruit. It never made sense. But it’s not even a concept now.
We’re not going to run out of apples, because human beings are making them better through the ingenuity provided by God. Does that make sense? Seven billion people, and there’s more food per person today than there was 100 years ago.Today, we breed apple trees shorter. So here’s the human being. Here’s the old apple trees. You used to need a ladder, then they have the semi-dwarf. Now, most apple trees are between five and seven feet high. You can just walk up to the tree to harvest the tree. You don’t pick the low hanging fruit anymore because it’s too low. You have to bend over, and it’s ergonomically bad on the pickers. So you just pick it at your standard level. This is true. And in fact, is that a problem? Do we get fewer apples? No, because big trees take big sunlight. If you have these dwarf trees, instead of 20 per acre, you can plant 2,000 per acre, 100 times more apple trees, so production of apples is higher, and it’s easier, and it costs less. We’re not going to run out of chickens. We’re not going to run out of apples, because human beings are making them better through the ingenuity provided by God. Does that make sense? Seven billion people, and there’s more food per person today than there was 100 years ago.
Now, what about petroleum? What about commodities? This is for the economists in the back. They’re digesting this. I can tell they’re thinking, “Oh, yeah, that’s the index that means that when there were two billion people in the world, things were more expensive than they are today with… In 2015, and so it’s cheaper. That’s good.” Inflation-adjusted costs of commodities have been declining over the long term, increase indicating a greater abundance of basically every major commodity.
The price of oil, which has gone from $100 a barrel, closed today at $36.33, a 70% decline. That 70% decline means there’s more oil per person as you sit here than ever before, basically in the history of mankind. We’re not running out of oil.Here’s the story, though. The story is that… Oh, it’s not much of a story. This is about oil. And this is the predicted price of a barrel of oil as they predicted it in 2010. They thought it was going to be up over $200 a barrel. In fact in 2010, they were predicting that we had reached all the oil in the world, and we were going to face steady declines in oil. This was called the “peak oil theory.” But a funny thing happened as we were running out of oil is, we discovered a lot more oil. In fact, more oil than we ever imagined. And so this is the price of oil, which has gone from $100 a barrel, it closed today at $36.33, a 70% decline. That 70% decline means there’s more oil per person as you sit here than ever before, basically in the history of mankind. We’re not running out of oil. Here’s the simple picture. It just means that instead of $4 a gallon, you only have to pay $1.73 or $1.64 or whatever. There’s more than there was compared to the demand.
So, what does this mean? This means the Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones. [chuckle] They weren’t saying, “Well, we better invent bronze ’cause we’re running low on rocks.” They were just saying, “Wait, we have bronze. It’s better. Wait, we have iron. It’s better. Wait, we have aluminum. It’s better. Wait, we use titanium. Why don’t we use a 3D printer on that?” It just gets better. We won’t run out of these things, and why? Because human beings are primarily minds, not primarily mouths, and that’s what that $7 billion slide separates. The people who think human beings mostly cause problems, are mostly mouths that consume, they get nervous when they see that, but the missiologists see souls, the entrepreneurs see markets. I see human beings within the image of God that solve more problems than they cause. And that’s the bottom line of all these slides and graphs that we’ve seen here before.
So, what does this mean? This means the Stone Age did not end because they ran out of stones. We won’t run out of these things, and why? Because human beings are primarily minds, not primarily mouths, and that’s what that $7 billion slide separates. The people who think human beings mostly cause problems, are mostly mouths that consume, they get nervous when they see that, but the missiologists see souls, the entrepreneurs see markets. I see human beings within the image of God that solve more problems than they cause. And that’s the bottom line of all these slides and graphs that we’ve seen here before. So that basically establishes the world is different and it’s not a little different. It’s 10 times different, 100 times different, fundamentally different than ever before. So now we need to frame this question. When we talk about righteousness, what are we talking about here? So with riches and wealth. This is income in England, from 1000 BC to the present day. So just to help you orient yourself, this would be the… King David would have been reigning about here in Israel. This is the beginning of the Iron Age too in Israel. This is the Roman Empire, here’s the iPad. And this is the iPad 4th generation that’ll be coming out next month. So this is Great Britain income per person is 12 times higher. Now, that’s on average.
So for people in this room, it’s 50 times higher, or 70 times higher, something like that. What you earned compared and what you can buy compared to the average person has just changed exponentially in our lifetimes. So that’s the income per person. The question, is that good? When we talk about righteousness and riches, when Paul was writing, when Thomas Aquinas was writing, when Luther and Calvin were writing, they were over in this part of the graph. They really didn’t have much to talk about compared to 50 or 100 or 500 years before. Suddenly, we have to ask this question and frame it. Is it good?
Are righteousness and riches at odds? The church has to ask that in this generation.Some would say, “No, not at all.” Or maybe it’s good in the sense that you can give it away or is it good that you can keep this? Are righteousness and riches at odds? The church has to ask that in this generation. So what’s going on besides income is going up? Well, maybe you’d say it’s good because global poverty is declining rapidly. I don’t know if you heard that in the news. In fact, it wasn’t in the news. In fact, by the way, did you know 23,000 planes landed successfully yesterday in the United States? That’s not news. [chuckle] I was on one of them. I’m pretty excited about it, but no, it’s not news. If one of them crashes tomorrow, then that’s news for a month. So poverty declining dramatically, let’s just look at the slide here. 1990, 47% of the world’s population, that’s about half, were living on less than $1.90 a day. In other words, two days income would buy you a Starbucks. Not clothes, not food. If you saved up everything, that’s what half the world lived on. By 2010, it declined to 22%. Last year, this is the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s number, 9.6% in extreme poverty.
So, The Economist magazine has put the trend outline out, saying that they think extreme poverty will come to an end somewhere around 2030. So in the generation sitting in this room, you’ll see the end of extreme poverty, but that’s why we’re having a colloquium today about human flourishing. In other words, it’s not enough to end poverty just to get people up to, “Okay. Now, you’re above subsistence.” The question is, where do you go from there? How do you see people flourish and what does that look like? And we also have the other end to talk about, the household net worth in the United States as of fourth quarter 2015 just reported $88.3 trillion, a new record. Never before have 312 million people controlled so much wealth ever in the history of mankind. So by the time that the generation sitting back there, you’re going to see $100 trillion of household net worth. So we have righteousness and riches.
it’s not enough to end poverty just to get people up to, “Okay. Now, you’re above subsistence.” The question is, where do you go from there? How do you see people flourish and what does that look like?Is the world moving away from righteousness or is it moving toward righteousness? As it comes out of poverty, that’s good. But is that too much? $88.3 trillion? And is it well divided? These are the questions we need to be asking. In fact, even in the Bible, we have this dichotomy that I mentioned before. So in Deuteronomy 28, “If you follow the law, if you keep the Torah, the Lord will make you abound in prosperity.” That sounds good. “In the fruit of your womb,” children, “In the fruit of your livestock,” that’s wealth, “The fruit of ground,” that’s food. So, it sounds like riches are a good thing. God’s promising that as a blessing. On the other hand, we have in James 5, “Come now you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted, your garments are moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like… ” James, didn’t you read Deuteronomy? That was a good thing, I think.
What about Matthew? “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph.” Jesus Himself came from the dead–Easter’s resurrection was from the tomb of a rich man, how can that be bad? On the other hand, as I mentioned before, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven.” So what about Joseph in this case? How do we separate this? In the Bible we seem to have it going both ways. Now, also, there is a paper accompanying this presentation. I won’t give you all the details. But there are authors who will say, “You choose only from this side.” Ron Snyder would be one. David Platt would lean this way of saying, “I’ll only tell you about the bad things associated with wealth.” And there are some other authors who will say, “I’ll tell you all the good things about wealth is fine and you can live your best life now. Okay?” So what happens if we only choose part of the data, and even if we’d say the whole data, how do we sort that out? This is where the little microeconomic lesson is going to help you. And this is why I think we need economists and businesspeople coming into the church.
In every passage of the Bible, where there’s a wealthy person identified as being wealthy, and the means by which the wealth was obtained, without exception, if it was a positive-sum game, the person is commended. And if it’s a negative-sum game, the person is condemned.These are skill sets and tools that we need now because of the complexity of society, not because of we are asking for donations. We don’t do that here at The Commonweal Project. This isn’t a fundraising event. It’s you. It’s the gifting you bring to your local church is why. And so here’s the bottom line and then we’ll talk about microeconomics to make sense of it. The resolution here is that in every passage of the Bible, where there’s a wealthy person identified as being wealthy, and the means by which the wealth was obtained, without exception, if it was a positive-sum game, the person is commended. And if it’s a negative-sum game, the person is condemned. So it’s the means by which the wealth is obtained that is a key that we want to keep track of. And I’ll give you a caveat here. That’s not the only distinction. There’s other things about heart issues and idolatry and generosity. But for the case studies we’re going to look at tonight, and what we’ve done in our paper, is look at all of the cases. This is what we’re going to to find.
Here’s game theory for you in two slides. So this man over here on the left is John von Neumann. Here’s Oskar Morgenstern. In 1944 they published a theory of games and economic behavior, basically to understand oligopolistic markets. Basically saying an economic transaction has rules. You go into the store and you stand in line at the cash register. If you’re buying a house you make an offer and wait for a counter. There’s rules, like games. And so John Nash advances game theory with the Nash equilibrium. He won a Nobel prize for it, but even better, he got a movie made about him and Richard Gere. This is part of my goal as an economist in life, not the Nobel prize, but actually to have Richard Gere do the movie about my life. Something like that. And so they defined a game as, “Any decision making situation in which people compete with each other for the purpose of gaining the greatest individual pay off.”
You know you do this. You look at one gas station and you check its price and then you go to the one that’s a nickel cheaper. For a nickel they’re competing against each other. Or you use a coupon when you go to the store. You do this in the retail level. It happens all over. Now, a zero-sum game, is when the gains of one player directly reflect the losses of another. Now, we had prime rib on the buffet. But say we had pizza tonight, and we put a pizza in your table of eight. And it wasn’t just such a big pizza. So every piece you ate, seven people would be looking at you realizing, “That’s a piece I’m not going to be eating.” That’s a zero-sum game with the pizza. On the other hand, you can have a positive-sum game. Both parties can benefit from the interaction at the same time. So, in other words, we catered this meal with the prime rib tonight. We had lots of money from the generous grant of The Kern Family Foundation. [The caterer] had lots of prime rib, and not very much money, apparently, and so we were able to trade and we both benefited. It was a positive-sum transaction. So not a zero-sum pizza. Something like that. College students in a dorm. There’s your game theory.
We have positive-sum games in the Bible and we have zero or negative-sum games in the Bible.So let’s talk about how this plays out in the Bible. In the Bible we specifically find positive-sum games like farming. The sun shines on both fields. The rain theoretically falls on both fields. One farmer can do well and the other farmer can do well at the same time. They both can win. Or herding, my flock, your flock both can get bigger within limits. Things like that. Building things. Manufacturing tents, for example, trading is a positive-sum game. So we see that specifically in the Bible. We also see zero-sum games in the Bible. So moving a boundary stone is expressly forbidden. Why? If I roll the boundary stone, my field gets bigger and your field gets smaller by the zero-sum. Or, fraudulent weights and measures. Here we have the big weights for buying and the small weights for selling. And so, therefore, it’s a zero-sum transaction. That’s forbidden. Stealing, obviously, zero-sum. Extortion, it can be negative-sum. It can cost you money and can cost both of you. And oppressing the poor and needy. Isaiah talks about adding house to house and crushing the widows. Amos talks about crushing the poor and so forth.
So we have positive-sum games in the Bible and we have zero or negative-sum games in the Bible. So let’s look at some Biblical examples of how this plays out. And the first group is just going to be our righteous wealthy people. Now, you’re going to recognize, Abraham is favorably disposed in the Bible, or observed. And so look at here, and forgive me by the way, reading slides I know is boring, but this is the Word of God. And in fact it’s the details of these verses, that I know you’ve read before, but you may not have ever looked at it saying, “Is that positive? Or is that zero-sum?” As we go through. So I’m Abraham’s servant. This is when the servant is going to get Isaac. He describes Abraham as being greatly blessed and he’s become great. He’s given him flocks; positive-sum. Herds; positive-sum. And silver and gold, male servants and female servants. Camels and donkeys. His herd can get bigger and it doesn’t cost anybody anything. So a positive-sum game with Abraham. When Sarah died, he was going to purchase the field of Machpelah. The gentleman offered to give it to him. He said, “What’s the piece of land worth? 400 shekels, what’s that between you and me? Just take it.” But the text specifically says Abraham purchases it, and he weighs out the silver for it.
Isaac, an even better example here. He sowed in the land and he reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And so, there you have it, a positive-sum game of farming. He had possession of flocks and herds and many servants. The Philistines envied him and they come and fill in his wells. That’s a negative-sum game. You take effort to take value away from someone else.And so he weighed out for Ephron the silver that he had named in the hearing of the Hittites and specifically according to the weights current among the merchants. So again, a positive-sum game. It wasn’t the zero-sum, where he used a false balance or something like that. So here we have an example of Abraham. And we have no counter examples in his life where he stole or something like that. Even after defeating the five kings, he said, “I’m not going to keep any of this except the tithes to Melchizedek.” Isaac, an even better example here. He sowed in the land and he reaped in the same year a hundredfold. And so, there you have it, a positive-sum game of farming. And what does the text say, “The Lord blessed him.” So, God did this. “And the man became rich.” That’s our question. And he gained more and more until he became very wealthy. He had possession of flocks and herds and many servants. And so, the Philistines envy him and they come and fill in his wells. That’s a negative-sum game. You take effort to take value away from someone else.
So the Philistines, negative or zero-sum game. Isaac positive-sum game. And so, Boaz and Ruth. So Boaz is a farmer, obviously favorably shown in the Bible. Not only is he a farmer, he leaves for the gleaning for Ruth to come along. And the other transaction is when he actually makes a purchase. A positive-sum game. Of Samuel, at the end of his life, again, a positive figure. He says, “Hey, I never played a zero-sum game. I never took something without pay out. In fact, if I have, testify against me before the Lord, what ox have I taken?” Zero-sum. “Whose donkey have I taken?” Zero-sum. “Whom I have oppressed or taken a bribe,” something like that. So Samuel, again, a positive figure, he’s saying, “I never did it wrong the other way.” Hezekiah, a positive king. I won’t go through this for the sake of time, but grain, wine, oil, sheep, herding. That’s basically the source of his wealth is listed there as well.
And then Job. I mentioned him at the outset. Lots and lots of sheep and camels, and yoke of oxen and so forth; positive-sum game and a positive person. Now, there were other things in his life that made him upright. We’re looking at only a narrow economic slice. But nonetheless, we are starting to build up the examples here of how this fits and the Lord gave him twice as much as he had before. Here’s a little unusual one. You remember when the Israelites left Egypt? The Prince of Egypt, animated, not exactly the same, but you get the point. They plundered the Egyptians, remember? They got all of the gold that they used on the Tabernacle and so forth. Do you remember how they plundered them? God said, “Why don’t you just go ask? Speak now and tell the people to ask. Every man and his neighbor and every woman or neighbor for silver and gold. Hey, by the way, could I just have some, a cup of sugar, an egg, and all your jewelry please? In fact, keep the egg, I don’t need sugar. Okay. I’m on a low-carb diet.”
And the people had gone with Moses and they asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry, and the Lord gave the people favor in their sight. So they let them have what they asked. They plundered the Egyptians. So, isn’t that fascinating that they don’t… It’s not a zero-sum game and you could… We have some Old Testament scholars here and you can beat me up afterwards about, it’s kind of under duress. Your first born just died and they are at the door. And it’s kind of awkward and there’s blood on their doors and stuff like that. So this is an unusual case. But, in the specifics of the text, they ask for it and receive it that way. And in fact, that is in contrast to all the ancient empires. The Hittites did not ask. The Babylonians, not known for asking. Assyrians, no requests from the Assyrians. Very clear.
And then we also know Paul and Aquilla and Priscilla, tentmakers by trade. That’s a positive-sum game. He commands people to earn their own living; positive-sum game, and then in his final speech to the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, he says, “By the way, I did not conduct any zero-sum games. I didn’t covet silver or gold. You yourselves know that I worked for my own things.” That rounds it out that positive-sum games are associated with people who are blessed by God. That’s ashrai for you guys who were here earlier. Unrighteous rich people use unlawful means. The man of James, I already quoted this text earlier. But now let’s read the rest of the story. The rest of the story is, “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud… ” Zero-sum game, “Are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. Are not the rich the one who oppress you?” Zero-sum game.
So it’s not enough for those authors who quote only the first part. It’s essential that you quote the entire text. The means by which the riches were obtained is a critical aspect of that account. Pharaoh enslaving an entire nation. We’re just going to go out and call that zero-sum. Some would call that the United States, but we’re… “So come, let us deal shrewdly with them. Let’s afflict them with heavy burdens. Don’t listen to them. Put heavy labor on them.” You’re stealing the labor. This is quintessentially zero-sum and Pharaoh, it didn’t work our for him very well. We have Achan at the Battle of Jericho, who stole 200 shekels of silver, a bar of gold and a beautiful cloak; zero-sum. The Midianites would come in at harvest time, kinda like the little red hen’s friends, say, “You’ve done all the work, we’ll just take the goods with us. We’ll take the harvest. Devour the produce of the land and leave no sustenance in Israel.” Zero-sum game.
Unlawful, or unrighteous people are known for zero-sum games. But that’s not all. If you play a positive-sum game for ungodly goals, that also is going to be condemned.The sons of Eli were specifically condemned for taking for themselves, out of the offerings of the people and so forth, and in the text it says, “They will take it by force.” Zero-sum and so forth. And then Ahab killed Naboth to take his vineyard. So these are unlawful, or unrighteous people are known for zero-sum games. But that’s not all. If you play a positive-sum game for ungodly goals, that also is going to be condemned. So I’m not saying that’s the only distinction. So we have two examples of this. We have Demetrius the silversmith. He was just selling these idols out of silver. He made a good living selling. The economists in the room will say, “Well, that’s a positive-sum game. People like to worship idols. He’s making the nicest idols around. A competitive idol maker.” Something like that. But not accepted by God. And then we also have [chuckle].. We have Delilah who is paid to seduce Samson and to find the source of his strength. So three of us are going to be going to a libertarian economic conference. They meet on Sundays in Las Vegas for some reasons. Anyway, I’m sure they would have no problem with the Delilah transaction. They’re saying, “That’s just free markets and she’s free to use the talents that God has given her,” but they wouldn’t use the word God. And so, nonetheless here, it’s not enough to be free markets. And then, one last, somewhat surprising one would be Solomon. Very wealthy. Very wise. But when you look closely at the biblical data, he was importing horses from Egypt and selling them. And that is something that was expressly forbidden for the kings of Israel to do. So positive-sum game, but an unlawful goal with forbidden means. So Deuteronomy 17 says you should not do exactly that. Also, what’s fascinating is that also with the Solomon accounts, it talks about his ships going out and it talks about his gold coming back. But the transactions themselves are never mentioned in the text itself.
So you have Solomon who starts very well and gets very wealthy, but then in the rest of his life with his wives, and worshipping other gods and then economically, it turns out to be an ambiguous case that… And I was surprised by this, actually, because I was expecting this to be a positive thing for Solomon. So we’ve seen that positive-sum games are associated with righteous people. Zero and negative-sum games are associated with unrighteous people. Here, I think are very interesting transformative examples of people who are unrighteous and become righteous, and that has an economic effect in their lives, or effect on their economics. So we have Kind David. How did he make his early wealth? By raids. Against the Geshurites, the Girzites, the Amalekites. These were the inhabitants of the land and so they would strike the land and leave neither man nor woman… That would be zero-sum, if you’re keeping track at home. But he’d take away the sheep and the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, the garments, and come back to Achish at Gath. And so zero-sum at the outset of his life.
And then in 1 Chronicles, he took these things and dedicated them to the Lord, together with the silver and the gold, it’s a vast sum: 100,000 talents. A million talents of silver. Bronze and iron beyond weighing. So he was wealthy, obtained zero-sum. A man after God’s own heart. But then when he went to build a temple, God specifically says, “I had it my heart to build a hou… ” This is David, is speaking to Solomon, giving him a charge, saying, David says, “My son,” to Solomon, “I had it my heart to build a house for the name of the Lord my God. But the Word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘You have shed much blood and waged great wars. You shall not build a house to My name because you’ve shed so much blood for you on the Earth.'”
Now, this is a challenging passage. Exactly, what’s going on? But I would argue Solomon, if you are familiar with this text, as soon as he becomes king, he kills Shimei. He knocks off his brother, and so he sheds blood himself very early on, and he gets to build the temple. The distinction that I would see here is, again, positive-sum and negative-sum games. At least that’s part of the explanation for this. So David turns out to be a negative example. But then, after the census, after Satan comes into his heart, God is angry with him. There’s a plague that’s sent. So he went and to stop the plague an angel tells him to raise up an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And Ornan says, “Take my threshing floor. You can just stop the plague, sacrifice here. It’s okay.” And this is at the very end of David’s life, he says, “No, I’ll buy it from you. I will not take for the Lord, what is yours.” So before he had been taking stuff, and trying to dedicate it to the Lord and the Lord said, “No.” And then later in life he says, “I am going to use this for God but I’m going to purchase it.” And he gives him 600 shekels of gold by weight for that site. So we have this transformation. And this is the last economic transaction recorded for David in his life.
Positive-sum is not, and good trading of legitimate goods, is not sufficient if your heart is in the wrong place.So, the port of Tyre. I’ll just go through this quickly. Basically, they’re very wealthy from great positive-sum game trading, but God is unhappy with them because their heart is proud. So in other words, positive-sum is not, and good trading of legitimate goods, is not sufficient if your heart is in the wrong place. And then we have Zacchaeus. Isn’t this great? We have established in the text, he’s rich. We have established in the text that Jesus Christ meets him and his life is changed. And then it has immediate economic consequences. He goes from zero-sum tax collecting, what I get is exactly what you don’t get to keep, to this, at least generosity and admitting that and changing it. So we have a transformational example with him. And I think my favorite here is Jacob, His whole life, when his name is Jacob, he came into the world grasping his brother’s heel. He deceitfully took the birthright from Esau; zero-sum. Zero-sum. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Genesis 48. He took a mountain slope, with his sword and his bow. That’s zero-sum.
Remember when he was doing the breeding with Jethro? They recognized that they had taken all that our father had, so he was zero-sum with Jethro, and so forth, and by the way, his wife for good measure took the household gods when they were running away, even stealing idols; zero-sum. But then he encounters God at the river Jabbok. He wrestles all night. His name is changed to Israel and the transactions after that, he goes and purchases a field; positive-sum, with 100 pieces of money. He purchases grain from Egypt and sends his sons to do that. And when Simeon and Levi killed the man and they took all their herds because they raped Dinah, their sister. He condemned them, saying “That’s not allowed.” Murder is not allowed, but also the economic transaction as well. And then when Pharaoh asked him what his occupation was, he said that he was shepherding was his occupation; positive-sum. And this is without exception, zero-sum until he encounters, and then only positive-sum. These transformational cases, I think, are very intriguing.
So let’s see our scorecard here. So we have people with a godly orientation and positive-sum games, and we have people with an ungodly orientation and zero-sum games, without exceptions. And then we have the positive-sum games with an ungodly orientation. So you can’t just make idols and sell them, even though it’s positive, that’s not enough. And then we have King David, who is zero-sum, with a godly orientation, and God doesn’t accept that. But we have a transformation in his life. And then we also have Jacob, who starts out in the ungodly zero-sum realm, and ends up in the godly positive-sum realm. So this is the biblical data in total. So, I think it presents an interesting case. I am just going to tell you that it’s not just the biographies, the narrative parts of the Bible, but the case I’ve just made can also be made didactically in the teaching parts, explicitly of the Bible. But for the sake of time, we’re just going to do this subliminally. So just stare at the screen and the Word of God is going to flash in front of your eyes and you’re just going to be persuaded. You’ll wake up in the night and say, “He’s right. That’s exactly right. It’s all the way through the whole Bible.” So here’s our summary and conclusions.
Are righteousness and riches at odds? I was correct the first time I said it. Of course they are. So when you talk about riches that are acquired through zero-sum games, or for unlawful goals, they are at odds. God condemns that in every case. But I’m going to introduce this second word, wealth. If riches are zero-sum because they are taken, wealth is created. There’s a way of making money. An artist starts with paints that are of less value and paints it into something that’s of great value. You’ve made money. You’ve created wealth. And this is commended. This is a positive-sum game with godly goals.So, How does this matter? Where does this go for the church? You guys wouldn’t remember the didactic anyway. That’s what economists remember. We want to read just the stories. So remember the stories. Are righteousness and riches at odds? I was correct the first time I said it. Of course they are. So when you talk about riches that are acquired through zero-sum games, or for unlawful goals, they are at odds. God condemns that in every case. And we find it in the Proverbs, we find it in the Wisdom Literature, we find it in the New Testament. But I’m going to introduce this second word, wealth. So, if we talk about riches being zero-sum, riches are taken, but wealth, we make it. There’s a way of making money. An artist starts with paints that are of less value and paints it into something that’s of great value. You’ve made money. You’ve created wealth. And this is commended. This is a positive-sum game with godly goals. This is commended. So, this in fact is the point. It’s the creation of wealth that’s the cure of poverty. It’s making it. This is what brings people out of poverty. It’s not, as you saw, both people are $88 trillion. It’s not stolen from poor people at night because the poor people are coming out of poverty as well.
So fundamentally earning an honest profit is not evil, but rather a sign of serving another, and I’m going to say, in love, and subduing the earth in obedience to the creation mandate. That’s why that word, honest profit. Henry Ford. I worked at Ford Motor Company. I was a plant controller for them. He was a greedy man. He was a racist. He was antisemitic. But he served a lot of people, but I wouldn’t say he served them in love. But, if you are a businessman and you are serving your customer… You are earning an honest profit, then I think that’s fundamentally good and pleasing to God, and it’s part of the fundamental creation mandate of “be fruitful, multiply, fill the Earth and subdue it and have dominion over animals.” So, earning an honest profit brings significant temptation, however. It’s not a warrant to keep everything. So this is your teaser to come back to the next Commonweal at some time in the future. Keep coming back to these events. Because all we’ve talked about tonight is the income statement–How you acquire wealth. Acquiring it in godly commendable ways doesn’t mean you get to keep it. There’s a stewardship to it. There’s a generosity to it. I could stay here ’til midnight. Come on, if you want to after this. We’ll keep going, or come back.
Now we need the skill sets of businesspeople and economists to be working together with pastors and theologians.And let me just of all, in our conclusion, commend you to be thinking biblically. So sometimes you find, “Oh, that guy’s a biblical scholar, but he only quotes half the data. Well, that guy’s a biblical scholar, he only quotes the other half of the data.” In your own mind, we need to be considering all of the biblical data, apply it to this question, and many others that are coming up. And then finally, as I said, your skill sets. Organization, financial management, borrowing and lending, leveraging. These are the skill sets that the church didn’t need 200 years ago. Why? Because it was 90% agrarian. And this village was just a lot like this village. And that village was just like that village. Everybody did mostly the same thing. Now we’re differentiated. Now we need markets. Now we need price signals. Now we need the skill sets of businesspeople and economists to be working together with pastors and theologians. This is a new generation. And so I’m so glad that you’re here for this. And so I conclude, come back to the next The Commonweal Project event. You are welcome to bring your colleagues. We still have openings and we’ll be doing this again in the fall. So, let’s take some Q&A at this point.[applause]