Ludwig von Mises’ mistaken economic ideas are strangely popular to many misguided professing Christians who miss the mark in mixing an ungodly economic system with a highly selective and partial approach to biblical law. Such an approach to law and economics seeks to protect private property rights and delegitimize the authority of governments to regulate and interfere with the (often corrupt) practices of businesses and wealthy and powerful individuals while simultaneously arguing that the Bible’s strong defense of the economic interests of the poor has been done away with by the first coming of Jesus Christ. As a syncretic view that assigns people a moral worth based on their net worth, it attacks at the family aspect of Christianity and the community aspect of society and instead pits common people against each other for the selfish benefits of the wealthy and well-connected.
We ought not to think that this unholy and corrupt economic worldview is a new thing. Far from it. The corrupt worldview of the city of Sodom is described thusly in Ezekiel 16:49-50: “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” In comparing Sodom to Jerusalem, Ezekiel warns us that those who think of themselves as God’s people can instead have the cultural and economic and political worldview of Sodom instead of the worldview of the Bible.
And what gross immorality is associated with the worldview of Sodom? We see the first sins listed not those we would expect, but rather the sins of pride, of selfishness and laziness and gluttony, of having great wealth but in reveling in great inequality where the wealthy were idle, needing to do nothing to be full while the poor received no help and no support from those who had more than enough. In fact, we may even note that the sexual immorality for which Sodom has become so famous sprang from viewing other people (and even angels) merely as objects to fulfill their own lusts. The sexual sins sprang from fundamental moral problems in which the people of Sodom viewed others as objects to be exploited economically as well as sexually.
We see this same connection made by the prophet Amos. Indeed, Amos condemns the immorality of his time including such sins as slave trafficking (Amos 1:6, 9), abortion (Amos 1:13) , as well as economic injustice in exploiting the poor (by “selling the righteous for silver and the poor for a pair of sandals” in Amos 1:6, though perhaps it would be a pair of Air Jordans today) as well as sexual immorality in looking at how fathers and sons both slept with the same women, both stealing the pledges of the poor as well as engaging in licentious partying behavior (Amos 1:7-8). For Amos as well as Ezekiel, the sins of Israel and Judah that merited God’s judgment included both sexual immorality (often under the effect of alcohol) as well as economic and social injustice.
We ought to remember that within American history this combination of apparent religious piety, economic exploitation, and sexual immorality is especially obvious in the history and culture of the South, though at present it is a widespread phenomenon. This unholy trinity came about through a rigid appearance of morality that included regular churchgoing and preachers whose messages strongly supported the (corrupt) existing power structure, preaching that it was the duty of the wealthy and powerful to rule paternalistically while it was the duty of everyone else obey without question. Instead of challenging corrupt elites, as godly prophets are called to do, these ministers preferred to be comfortable supporters of the status quo, like the corrupt and wealthy Amaziah, priest at Bethel (see Amos 7:10-17).
To compound problems, such a mistaken worldview saw the worth of human beings as connected to net worth. Those who were poor, like the inhabits of the piney woods and Appalachian hill country, were mocked as being poor merely because they were lazy, even while suffering under an economic and legal and political system that exploited them and then mocked them. The ‘natural aristocrats’ who ruled over this corrupt society were those manor born slave owners who produced mulattoes by the ten and hundred thousand (who then became additional property to buy and sell) from slave mistresses and then piously proclaimed themselves far more moral than the Northern industrial magnates with whom they collaborated to exploit foreigners and women to build America’s industrial and economic strength.
Nor have matters changed much today. It is common in Southern towns and cities for the political and economic elites to sit in the prestigious pews of the local First Baptist Church on Sundays while engaging in corrupt political and business activities the rest of the week to ensure that they preserve their wealth and power with a blind eye from the people of the cloth who genuflect for the donations of the wealthy to build their fine houses and large church buildings to make these corrupt businessmen deacons to give them some kind of supposed moral legitimacy, with ill-gotten capital being supposedly transformed into noble spiritual capital, while making sure their “right-to-work” churches and communities preach the value of hard work while making such work rather low-paying.
Those who have most completely amalgamated Ludwig von Mises’ economic worldview with an apparently biblical one are the Theonomists, especially Gary North. The end result is something very dissimilar to the Bible’s economic worldview and something that is remarkably similar, if not identical, to the oppressive statutes of Omri . The way they have done this is a characteristically gnostic approach to biblical law, where they claim that biblical protections of private property against theft (especially theft by government) remain valid while those biblical laws that provide for periodic redistribution of wealth to thwart rigid inequality (Leviticus 25:8-17), forgive debts every seven years (Leviticus 25:1-7), provide government regulations for just weights and measures by businesses (Leviticus 19:35-36), required daily payment of wages (Leviticus 19:13), protected foreigners from economic exploitation (Exodus 22:21), commanded the wealthy to lend to the poor without interest (Exodus 22:25), and protected widows and orphans from mistreatment (Exodus 22:22), to have been “fulfilled” by Christ, simply because they remain inconvenient commandments of God to many of those enamored by the wicked economic worldview of von Mises. A genuine Christian cannot be a disciple of Ludwig von Mises; we must choose whom we will follow.
Why is this so? What is it that makes von Mises’ views so strongly unbiblical? The fundamental view is that von Mises views the market as the foundation of society, while the Bible views the family as fundamental. The differences between these worldviews are stark. For von Mises, the worth of people can be equated to net worth because the market, unfettered by any burdensome government regulations, is supposed to automatically lead to a just distribution of wealth and a just outcome for all. In practice, this leads to the privileging of inside information so that those who are wealthy and well-connected prosper while everyone else suffers, with no moral obligation (in fact, often a fairly strong disinterest) for the wealthy to help those who are poor, since those who struggle are often seen as deserving poverty and suffering for some kind of moral problem (such as laziness). Indeed, private charity (forget public welfare) is seen as immoral by somehow seeking to reserve the judgment of God against the poor, the ill, and the vulnerable. Clearly if they were righteous they would never have illnesses, never have reverses, and never be left widows or orphans. This is the economic theory of Job’s friends (and we all know how God saw their “wisdom,” see Job 42:7-9).
In stark contrast, the Bible has a very stern streak of social justice, demanding that fellow Christians first be considered as brethren apart from any sort of economic exploitation. In fact, the Bible strongly comments that those who stole should steal no longer so they could work and give to those who have need, in Ephesians 4:28, suggesting that the reason why God gives blessings to some is for them to give to others who have need and requiring Christians to be sensitive to those who have need among their brethren. Indeed, the office of deacon came out in the first place to ensure that the Church was fair and just in its treatment of widows (see Acts 6:1-7), not so that wealthy (and probably not deeply religious people) could buy their way into church offices.
When we, following the Bible, see the family as foundational and the market as secondary, we follow the economic worldview of Adam Smith rather than Ludwig von Mises, recognizing that morality as at the basis of our worldview, which is then applied in various sphere’s of one’s life, including market relations. A godly worldview is concerned about behaving justly, giving an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay and paying an honest day’s wage for an honest day’s work. God’s laws apply to us no matter what our economic or political position, and they require us to be sensitive to our obligations to others, however we are in a position (or not) to meet the needs of other people after providing for the needs of ourselves and our household. Indeed, in the biblical worldview, as we have seen, the civil government and religious establishment have an interest in defending standards of just economic behavior with either fines (civil sanctions) or congregational discipline (religious sanctions). Doing so provided a strong punishment both now and hereafter to unrepentant economic injustice that is largely absent in our current political or religious order.
In recognizing this we can help avoid the false dilemma than von Mises and his corrupt disciples (like Gary North) posit between a wild and immoral laissez faire market without any regulations (or underlying morality except selfishness and greed) and a corrupt socialist government like Pharaonic Egypt. We see that instead of these unacceptable and ungodly alternatives (the typical two faces of gnosticism–libertarianism/anarchy and socialism/totalitarianism), the Bible provides a principled republican alternative, if only we would seek it instead of following after the ways of the heathen.