The Assault on Saving
The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow (Deuteronomy 28:12).
He shall lend to thee, and thou shalt not lend to him: he shall be the head, and thou shalt be the tail (Deuteronomy 28:44).
There are two passages in the Bible that present the fundamental principles of economic growth: Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28. They are parallel passages. They present a series of sanctions. The sanctions are mainly economic. About one-quarter are positive sanctions. Three-quarters are negative. They are covenant sanctions. They have to do with obedience and disobedience to God’s laws. Hence, they are both judicial and ethical. They make it clear that economic theory must be seen in terms of ethics. They teach that economic theory cannot be ethically neutral. Good economic results are the product of good economic behavior.
These two verses contrast the two systems of sanctions. The first appears in the section on positive sanctions. It promises success through lending. Lending is part of a program of wealth accumulation. It begins with agriculture. Good crops depend on rain. But this is only one aspect of national wealth. The net productivity will affect the whole range of economic endeavors. This includes money lending. The sign of economic success is the capital required to become a lender. Such capital is a mark of a successful person who is following a successful program. So, when it comes to success, being a creditor is a worthy goal. Avoiding debt is also a worthy goal.
In contrast is the second sanction. It is the reverse of the positive sanction. In the case, the cursed man is the debtor. But he is not the foreigner. The foreigner is in a position of authority. The mark of success is to be the head. The mark of failure is to be the tail. Half a millennium later, Solomon wrote: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender” (Proverbs 22:7).
Because of the myth of economic neutrality, we find that most economists today praise both debt and credit. Are they not both legitimate economic ends? Are they both not goals of human action? Are they not different aspects of the same voluntary transaction? Therefore, are they not marks of a free society? They are marks of a free society, but they are not equal. He who lends is extending the influence of his worldview. He who borrows is subordinating himself to the creditor’s worldview. While both lending and borrowing should be legal, he who pursues debt is clearly a fool. He places him in the category of a covenant-breaker. He places himself in the category of losers in history: functionally subordinate to another man’s God.
This outlook is at war with modern economics. Modern economics is officially neutral methodologically. The Bible is not. The Bible praises thrift and curses debt. It makes it clear that thrift is a moral good. Debt is evidence of a moral weakness: a concern with present consumption at the expense of economic independence.
This is not a criticism of debt that finances a program of capital accumulation, such as investing in real estate. But it warns the entrepreneur that such a debt-funded business venture is risky. The person who collateralizes his capital may lose it. A businessman may take a loan, but if the bank refuses to renew it, he may lose his business. He is the servant to the lender.
So, the Bible makes it clear: it is a moral obligation to lend. This is an affirmation of a program of saving. Why? Because of the biblical concept of redemption. To redeem means to buy back. Christianity preaches that Jesus Christ came to redeem His people? How? By living a perfect life, and then dying as a substitutionary payment to God: His death for His people’s otherwise mandatory eternal death. But this was preliminary to comprehensive redemption: buying back a fallen world for His people. His people will inherit the earth. This is stated repeatedly in the Psalms. “His soul shall dwell at ease; and his seed shall inherit the earth” (Psalms 25:13). But the means of this program of redemption is through service, not military conquest. Jesus said:
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant (Matthew 20:25-27).
Lending money to people who want to buy consumer goods is part of this program of redemption. Lending brings present-oriented consumers under the influence of future-oriented lenders. This means that one of the goals of lending — a form of thrift — is to permanently consume less that you save. Saving is part of a program of cultural dominion. It is to extend the kingdom of God by means of a lifetime of thrift, including money-lending. This means that thrift is not only for future consumption. It is for future dominion.
(For the rest of my chapter, click the link.)