Faith and Economics by Gregg Motley

Gregg Motley. President of the Regional Economic Development, Inc. Submitted photo.

It might seem counterintuitive to connect economic vitality to religion, but a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that there is a strong correlation. Published online in November of 2003, the research performed by Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary in 59 countries over a period of 19 years was summarized by Les Picker in The Digest. The conclusion: economic growth follows strong religious belief and practice.

Supporting this thesis is the compelling evidence that Christian missionaries sent around the world have a strong, positive economic impact on third world nations. This is particularly true of Sub-Sahara Africa, as described in a May 31, 2019 online article entitled, The Economics of Missionary Expansion: Evidence from Africa and Implications for Development. One might think that the resources themselves transported by these travelers caused the growth, but the evidence suggests that the change of character and motivation by the natives created the long-term positive impact.

Since morality and character are attributes that are typically formed in a positive way in religious and spiritual environments, it made sense to me that actions motivated by integrity are productive in an economy. For example, it seems reasonable to conclude that hard work creates economic stimulus, healthy living holds healthcare costs down, and crime-free living mitigates excessive judicial investments by a community; conversely, actions motivated by low moral character can be costly to an economy.

While far from perfect, our Founding Fathers understood this connection. John Adams, who was the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, is famously quoted as saying, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Understanding the tenuous financial condition of the 13 colonies shortly after the American Revolution, these men understood that we could ill-afford misbehavior by its citizens and trusted them to self-govern.

The study by Barro and McCleary further observes that not all religions had the same positive impact; those who have a belief in heaven and hell tended to stimulate more vigorous economic growth. Additionally, strong state support of religious freedom helps the economy, while the persecution of religious thought, such as is the case with communism, has a dampening effect on financial activity. Unfortunately, as the economy grows and strengthens, religious practice tends to wane, and the economy cycles toward weakness again.

One can only conclude that those who have the strongest positive impact on our economy are those among us who have religious beliefs that guide their behavior and the choices they make every day. I encourage you to devote more of your time to your religious beliefs and a faith community of your choice. Bourbon County needs all of us at our best.

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