Book Review: The Poverty Of Nations

The Poverty Of Nations:  A Sustainable Solution, by Wayne Grudem & Barry Asmus

This book was a lot different than I expected it to be.  Although the fate of nations and their well-being is certainly something that frequently comes to mind [1], when one hears the dreaded word sustainability, one does not often think of a generally conservative viewpoint, and that is what one finds with this book.  By and large, and one would expect from my own political and religious worldview, I found a lot to appreciate here, both in the author’s thoughtful look at the Bible as well as their point of view of matters such as freedom and the importance of property rights and personal morality in setting the ground work for societal growth and development.  It did appear to me, though, that the authors harped a bit too much on the matter of repaying debt and failed to examine the aspects of the land Sabbath and jubilee relating to the restoration of land to its original families and the forgiveness of debts.  If this book is a good deal better than many volumes one can read whining about the need for rich countries to give more and the illusory efficacy of one world socialism, this book could have stood to be a bit more compassionate towards the debt trap faced by many poor countries and more than a few wealthy countries as well.

This book consists of nine mostly lengthy chapters that total almost 400 pages in length that give a pretty fierce discussion of the qualities that lead to national/societal prosperity.  The book begins with a foreword by Rick Warren that states that this book is one that he highly recommends, for what it’s worth.  The authors begin with a discussion of the goal of an economy, namely to produce more goods and services for the same amount of people, after which they talk about wrong goals, including egalitarian goals, cultivating dependence, and blaming one’s poverty on outside factors like imperialism and wealthy nations in the global “North.”  The third chapter looks at a large amount of failed economic systems including hunting and gathering, subsistence agriculture, slavery, tribal/collective ownership, feudalism, mercantilism, socialism/communism, and the welfare state.  The fourth chapter gives the authors’ defense of capitalism and the importance of free markets with a sound rule of law that avoids cronyism and corruption.  The fifth chapter gives a discussion of the mechanics of the free market system, including specialization and the absence of economic controls, while the sixth chapter looks at the moral advantages of the free market in cultivating virtues and promoting personal freedom, where the authors also work to overcome various objections people have raised about free markets.  The seventh chapter looks at the importance of good government in societal well-being, while the eighth chapter examines the essential liberties that are required for economic growth, the sort of freedoms one would not find in an FDR speech, for example.  The ninth chapter then looks at the cultural beliefs that encourage economic growth, focusing on issues of attitude and accountability as well as a certain realism in one’s self-understanding and approach to the world.

If the majority of books dealing with the poverty of nations can be viewed as tenderhearted, looking with compassion at the downtrodden state of the world, this book by stark contrast is very tough-minded and is the sort of book that one does not read for personal encouragement as much as a challenge for societal improvement.  That is not to say that I disagree with this book, only that I think it more like a kick in the pants rather than a gentle hand to help someone rise.  This book has some harsh things to say about the policies of many Western nations that are not conducive to wealth and indicate a certain focus on integrity on all levels, whether that means being a productive worker who helps one’s company make money or whether that means resisting bribes and helping to root out corruption in a society wherever it can be found.  It is likely that few societies are really interested in rooting out their own internal malaise that would help them rise, or to deal with the cultural norms that work against the protection of personal property in the face of collectivist traditions and identities that punish success, especially as so much corruption seems endemic in many parts of the world, where elites prosper even as their societies languish in misery and persistent failure.  This book is more a warning than it is a gentle book of encouragement, but those who can find encouragement here would do well to read it.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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