#108 God’s Frameworks

the christian economist dave arnott

#108 God’s Frameworks

God made a complex world. Humans categorize it using frameworks.

Frameworks.  That’s what we teach in college level education.  God made a complex world.  Humans try to categorize it so we can understand it better.  In the second session of my Econ class, I give framework assignments to groups of students.  They come to the board and draw a simple explanation of baseball or Chemistry or biology or marketing.  It’s fun, and it’s fascinating.  They prove to themselves their ability to understand their world in simple frameworks. 

All dancers, or football players if you choose, move in only three dimensions.  Every painting or picture you take is a combination of only three colors.  The Old Testament points forward to Jesus, the New Testament points back.  There are only 118 items in the periodic table of elements.  The Biology framework is kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species.

Two Diagrams

I want my economics students to understand two diagrams.  The first explains microeconomics, which is price setting.  The second explains macroeconomics, where only two entities: The government and the central bank, each having two levers to affect the economy.

Sorry, but that reminds me of a very funny sketch from Saturday Night Live in the mid 1980’s by the character Father Guico Sarducci, titled “The Five Minute University.”  He claims he can tell you in five minutes what the average college graduate remembers five years after graduating.  On economics, he explains, “Economics: supply and demand.”  Uh…he’s really pretty close to correct about that.  In the textbook I use, by Greg Mankiw, he states that the two words used most by economists are supply and demand. 

I attended a very detailed and complex lecture on hypertension last week.  The presenter used a simple four-part outline: Exercise, diet, drugs, bioelectronics.  He made a complex subject simple.  Albert Einstein said, “You don’t fully understand a subject until you can explain it simply.”

In college education, we use textbooks.  When learning more casually, you read practical books.  Here’s the difference.  This is the textbook I’m using in Graduate Strategic Management this semester.  It was written by Hitt, Ireland and Hoskisson.  Textbooks do NOT give you the author’s opinions.  They are full of facts, confirmed by numerous scholars, whose research has been studied and verified by peer reviewers and published in academic journals.  Here’s an example: Chapter four is about Competitive Advantage, arguably, the most important concept students learn in their entire business education.  At the end of the chapter, the authors list 133 citations.  Those are all from one chapter!  You see, a textbook is a compilation of hundreds, even thousands of research-based facts.  The book I wrote with Sergiy Saydometov, Biblical Economic Policy, contains 602 citations.

But practical books are the very opposite.  They are the ideas of one person, the author, who sits at her computer and spouts her subjective views.  Pankaj Ghemewhat gives a Ted talk where he counters the ideas of Thomas Friedman in The World is Flat.  He says there are no citations in the book.  He’s right. 

In this sense, practical books like The World is Flat, give interesting, and often insightful opinions, while textbooks like Strategic Management convey facts.  It’s good to know what kind of book you’re reading. 


The Christian Worldview

Here’s the most important framework I’ve ever learned.  It’s called the Christian worldview.  Sometimes it’s called “The three-chapter gospel.”  God created a perfect world.  Fallen humans have messed it up.  Christians believe we find redemption in the acceptance of Jesus Christ as our personal savior.  That’s it.  Three elements.  Actually, some of my colleagues add a fourth: Restoration, which I don’t disagree with, but I tend to favor simplicity, so I teach the three-chapter gospel.

Everyone has a worldview, but not everyone knows what their worldview is.  It’s indispensable in economics, which is the study of the production and distribution of goods and services in a scarce environment.  We believe God created a bountiful world, and scarcity entered as a result of the fall.  We believe humans are called to produce and distribute goods and services that serve our neighbors.  Serving your neighbors is more fully explained in podcast # 18 Love Your Neighbor.   That’s it.  Pretty simple, huh?  Easy to explain, hard to do.

God creates, humans discover.  God created the world.  It’s our job to discover what to do with it.  I’m in the middle of changing offices at Dallas Baptist University.  Going through books in the office I’m about to occupy, I found an economics textbook by Fred Gottheil.  It’s the first book I used when I started teaching Economics.  The very first line of the book reads, “No one ever made an ounce of earth.”  Then, he tells the creation story from Genesis.  Hugh Whelchel says, “God made something out of nothing.  Our job is to make something out of something.” 


God Intends for you to be where you Are

In his book, The Red Sea Rules, Robert Morgan puts the reader alongside the Israelites after they escaped Egypt.  With the Red Sea at their backs, Pharaoh’s chariots charging toward them, and barren deserts on either side, he says you should do ten things.  Red Sea Rule #1 is: Realize that God Intends for you to be where you are.  That’s pretty powerful.  Most men marry women who are shorter than they are.  This posed a problem for Milt, who was five-feet tall and studying at Rutgers.  He then attended graduate school at the University of Chicago, and just by pure providence, there was a woman in his class who was 4-foot-ten.  When they were married, her name changed to Rose Friedman, and Milton and Rose Friedman became perhaps the most influential economics couple of the 20th century.  They were atheists, so they called it “coincidence,” but believers call it “providence.”  Really, what are the chances that a guy five-feet tall is going to find a woman shorter than him?  We believe God intended for Milton and Rose Friedman to be where they were.  If you want to get students to concentrate on the front of the classroom, tell that story, as I do.  Their eyes are pasted on the front wall.  Because to look sideways, might be a glance at your future mate!  After telling that story a couple semesters ago, a student approached me after class.  “Do you remember Cassy James,” he asked?  “Yes I do,” I responded, “She was in my class a couple semesters ago.”  “Well,” he continued, “We met in your class and we’re getting married this summer.“  It’s the only relationship that started in my class and resulted in marriage….that I know of. 

If you believe God intends for you to be where you are, it gives you a whole new outlook on the “happenstances” of life.  Maybe God wanted you to get stuck in traffic, so you would encounter a different check-out person at the grocery store, or a different waiter at the restaurant.  When you believe in a God who guards and guides, the economy takes on an entirely different look.  Maybe I bought the Chevy truck instead of the Ford, so I would have a conversation with a dedicated Chevy driver in the church parking lot.  Maybe you’re watching this podcast because God intended for you to see it.  Maybe. 

Economics and Rationalism

I’ve mentioned in other podcasts that I start my Economics class with an excerpt from The Virtues of Capitalism by Austin Hill and Scott Rae, where they make the point that everything in the world is economic except……..Love.  There’s more about that in podcast #79 There is no Free Manna

My DBU colleague Davey Naugle died earlier this year.  The dedication to my little book Economics and the Christian Worldview reads, “Davey Naugle taught me everything I know about the Christian Worldview.”  In his book, titled Worldview, Dr. Naugle explains how we are supposed to determine how to correctly order our loves.  Now that’s interesting.  What do you love?  Loving God is a good start.  And, it’s the title of a very good book by Charles Colson.  

At the end of the most recent meeting of the Association of Christian Economists, one of my fellow attendees went on a long screed about how people don’t make rational decisions because they don’t have the facts.  She proposed to write a book to “set people straight.”  I mentioned that the 20% of American adults who smoke cigarettes are not going to be affected by her facts.  “You think they don’t KNOW the effects of smoking?!” I asked incredulously.  The economic assumption that people act rationally, is not well supported by observation. 

Use Honest Measures

Sergiy Saydometov and I claim to have found ten Biblical Commandments of Economics that are explained in our book Biblical Economic Policy.  One of them is to “use honest measures.”  God has a framework for this.  He distinguishes between honest measures and dishonest measures.

While speaking at the University of Kansas in March of 1968, Robert F Kennedy made the following comment about the inaccuracies of monetary measurements:

The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. 

Note this important line, “….the wisdom of our learning.”  I visited with a group of prospective students and their parents last week at Dallas Baptist University.  I made the same point that RFK made in Kansas 53 years ago: There’s a difference between information and wisdom.  If the prospective students want information, I encouraged them to stay home and turn on their

 smart phones.  But if they want wisdom, they should attend a University like Dallas Baptist. 

I heard my voice bounce off the back wall of the lecture hall at Dallas Baptist University last week, when I said, “I could probably produce a pretty convincing argument that Christian salvation provides a good measure of quality of life.”  After class, I looked up Quality of Life and found 15 measures.   There’s a framework for that.  Stay tuned.

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