Why the Vast Disparity in National Prosperity?
Is it government policy, technology, race, religion, or something else?

Chris asks: I am struggling to get clarity on some of the terms that you use in your article on racism. The term 'judging' is a very general term and judging people can been done on many different levels, some of which are more acceptable than others.

1. By judging, do you mean, for example, that one particular colour race has a long history of more technological advancement? This would make differences of skin colour more than just superficial.

2. What do you think of the term 'racialist' which is a belief in loving all races while promoting racial separation in order to further enhance, purify, or preserve the unique aspects of each race?

Question about A General Question: Character of God
Motivation - Curiosity: Idle curiosity; Curiosity: General interest; Curiosity: Sincere curiosity; Interest in religion: Interest in Christianity; Guidance: Not sure, confused
Bible view - A foundational document - [question 115, Friday, 20-Jul-2012]

According to Wikipedia, the term standard of living refers to the level of wealth, happiness, comfort, material goods and necessities available to a certain socioeconomic class in a certain geographic area. The term quality of life is closely related, although it emphasizes health and happiness over economic security. In in either case one thing is clear: there are wide swings in prosperity among different classes of people in different parts of the world. The question is 'Why?' ...

What the World Eats

There is a fascinating Time photo essay by Peter Menzel that captures the food types and expenditures consumed weekly by typical families throughout the world. It shows an astounding 400-to-1 disparity in this important metric from one country to another. In addition to food comparisons, Peter Menzel's web site has over 10,000 images comparing water, air, shelter, energy, and several other factors worldwide. It is a significant work, and it points to a significant result. Does the Bible have anything to say about this seemingly unfair and distorted outcome for families throughout the world? Yes. There are some general principles that apply and we discuss them in this article.

Possible Explanations

Sociologists, those who study human society, appear to agree on a few general principles related to the success of civilizations. Ample food supply, coupled with the ability to safely live in proximity to each other, engenders a free flow of ideas and materials among people that ultimately gives rise to technological development. Although some lament its recent impact on modern society, technology has certainly improved the human condition over thousands of years. Add to this some form of framework for person-to-person and group-to-group relationship, and things start to take off. Noted deep thinker Paul Romer presents a theory that improvement of human standard of living depends on just two factors: technology and rules (see A Theory of History with an Application).

But while sociologists may agree on underlying conditions, they certainly disagree on the ultimate cause igniting those conditions. That is where the Bible can shed some light on the subject.

There are several possible explanations that do not show up in the Bible. After all, the Bible is not a science text book, a history lesson, or a socioeconomic essay. To be valuable to its readers, the Bible must not contradict these disciplines, in fact, value comes when the Bible aligns with them and they align with the Bible. (Read our article Is the Bible a Pack of Lies? for information about the viability and reliability of the biblical text.)

Here is a short list of explanations of socioeconomic diversity on our planet. We start with Bible-based explanations, then proceed through sociological ones, and end with a discussion of racial implications.

  • Explanations endorsed by the Bible
  • Explanations from sociology
  • Rejection of racial supremacy as an explanation

Explanations Endorsed by the Bible

God's Plan of the Ages - If one thing comes from biblical study, it is that God is sovereign and in control of the universe. As Creator, God does what He wants, when He wants, and He asks no one for permission. So the most simplistic answer to 'Why disparity among the nations?' is 'because God wants it that way.' But the Bible does not leave us with this fatalistic answer, it supplies general principles and specific parameters that help us understand what is going on, at least to some extent.

Reduced to it simplest form, the Plan of the Ages described in the Bible has only a few components. Pre-history and far-future history appear at the very beginning and very end of the Bible. The first few chapters of Genesis describe pre-history, with events like the flood of Noah, and the last few chapters of Revelation describe far-future history, with events like the New Jerusalem descending from heaven. In between, there are only three major players in the plan: (1) the Jews, or national Israel, (2) the Church, which we call 'Christ-followers' because there are plenty of church people who do not follow Jesus Christ, and (3) every other group of people, known as the Gentile nations. A Gentile is a non-Jew. Christ followers are spiritually Jews because they have been grafted in to God's promises through faith in Jesus Christ:

And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
- Galatians 3:29 [KJV]

Gods plan of the ages
In its simplest form, God's plan of the ages has only a few key components.

God begins His plan with the Call of Abraham in Genesis 12. Out of Abraham came the Jews (Israelites or Hebrews) of the Old Testament, and out of the Jews came Jesus Christ of the New Testament. As part of His call to Abraham, God makes this astounding proclamation:

And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.
- Genesis 12:3 [NASB]

The English word 'bless' comes from the Hebrew word 'barak' which means, literally, 'kneel before.' So Genesis 12:3 says that God will kneel before those who kneel before Abraham. Likewise 'curse' (Hebrew qalal) means 'make lighter,' so God will make lighter those who make Abraham lighter. Based on this verse, and others like it, we can say that the Bible teaches:

  • Those who prosper the Jews will themselves prosper
  • Those who impede the Jews will themselves be impeded

Has this been borne out in history? Indeed, yes. Winston Churchill notes:

Some people like the Jews, and some do not. But no thoughtful man can deny the fact that they are, beyond any question, the most formidable and the most remarkable race which has appeared in the world.

and progressive free thinker Olive Schreiner says of recent history:

Indeed it is difficult for all other nations of the world to live in the presence of the Jews. It is irritating and most uncomfortable. The Jews embarrass the world as they have done things which are beyond the imaginable. They have become moral strangers since the day their forefather, Abraham, introduced the world to high ethical standards and to the fear of Heaven. They brought the world the Ten Commandments, which many nations prefer to defy. They violated the rules of history by staying alive, totally at odds with common sense and historical evidence. They outlived all their former enemies, including vast empires such as the Romans and the Greeks. They angered the world with their return to their homeland after 2000 years of exile and after the murder of six million of their brothers and sisters.

The study of history of Europe during the past centuries teaches us one uniform lesson: That the nations which received and in any way dealt fairly and mercifully with the Jew have prospered; and that the nations that have tortured and oppressed them have written out their own curse.

So it is dangerous to forget the God to whom the Jew and Christ-follower point, whether you are an individual or an entire nation:

The LORD is known by the judgment which he executeth: the wicked is snared in the work of his own hands. The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.
- Psalms 9:16 [KJV]

Strength in purity is another theme that appears throughout the Bible. Unlike modern teachings which say that strength comes through diversity, the Bible clearly teaches the opposite: strength comes through unity. This came out in Bible times when God commanded the Israelites to refrain from intermarriage with Gentiles (see our article on biblical guidelines for dating). Anything that is purified is made stronger.

Current events in America include a debate about whether or not to make English the official language of the United States. Immigrants would be required to learn English before attaining citizenship. The rationale is straight-forward: there is strength in purity. As it is now, isolated factions have arisen and bi-linguistics is consuming substantial educational resources. Of course there are arguments pro and con in this debate, but, from a Bible perspective, a single language would make America stronger and multiple languages would make America weaker (see Genesis 11, the Tower of Babel).

The importance of righteousness in a nation's leadership is emphasized throughout the Bible. A summary verse is Proverbs 29:2:

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan.
- Proverbs 29:2 [NASB]

In this case righteousness means clean standing before God's Code of Ethics, the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20). National leaders who fall short will bring their nations down with them, according to this biblical principle. Some think that the Ten Commandments involve only God-to-man relationships, such as loving God, keeping the Sabbath, and not cursing. But a full five commandments specify ethical man-to-man behavior.

  • You shall not murder.
  • You shall not commit adultery.
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his male servant or his female servant or his ox or his donkey or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

Next time you vote for a political candidate, measure him or her by God's measuring stick, the Ten Commandments.

Byzantine coat of arms
The coat of arms of the old Byzantine Empire is based on the faulty, non-biblical idea of unity between church and state.

Religion is nasty stuff and the Bible warns against it. The harshest words that Jesus ever spoke were to religious people, not to everyday folks and 'sinners.' Although some are benign and edifying, many religions outwardly enslave people, stifling social and human development and keeping everyone in the Dark Ages.

The old Byzantine Empire (vestige of the Roman Empire) collapsed to the more resilient Ottoman Empire in 1453 perhaps due to the prevailing mixture of church and state in Byzantium itself and in Europe, a concept foreign to the Bible (Matthew 22 above) and proven faulty by Jefferson in early America. The marked difference in standard of living and quality of life between Haiti and the Dominican Republic may be due, in part or in whole, to the widespread practice of the VooDoo religion and similar folk-magic black art in Haiti, but not in the Dominican Republic. The well-known repression of women in Islamic culture reduces the human capital available for increasing prosperity by a factor of two.

Responsibility of God's People - God seems to have worked things out to where His people -- Jews and Christ-Followers -- are scattered throughout the Gentile nations like salt sprinkled on a piece of meat. The idea of scattering or diaspora appears often in the Bible and very explicitly in the book of Ezekiel:

And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall scatter them among the nations, and disperse them in the countries.
- Ezekiel 12:15 [KJV]

The reasons for this dispersion are generally given as punishment for disobedience to God's commands. Jesus points to the results of the dispersion when He says of His followers:

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
- Matthew 5:13ff [KJV]

This ties back to the use of salt in the Meal Offering of the Old Testament (Leviticus 2:13). Salt prevents purification.

Now here is the clincher of the diaspora: the health of the Gentile nations is directly proportional to the obedience of God's people living in them. If Christians and Jews are true to God, living holy and righteously among the Gentiles, God promises a 'healed land.' Conversely, a 'sick land' is the result of disobedience in God's people. The one-to-one relationship between the behavior of Christians and Jews and the overall health of the Gentile nations is called out explicitly in the Chronicles, as follows:

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.
- II Chronicles 7:14 [KJV]

spanish escudo coin
Some Europeans came to Mexico and South America with gold on their minds. Others came to America and Canada with God on their minds. The outcomes were vastly different.

Do you see what this says, Christian? Do you see what this says, Jew? It is you who are responsible for the health and well-being of the nation you live in. If things are going down hill, look to yourself, not elsewhere, for a solution. God calls you explicitly to turn from your wicked ways back to a holy and righteous lifestyle. He promises, if you do, he will heal your land.

One of the best places to see this law of God worked out in history is the colonization of the New World by Europeans. They all came to North and South America under the banner of Christianity, but some were truly motivated by gold, not by God. Some 'turned from their wicked ways' and the amazing prosperity of North America came forth. The gold seekers of Mexico and South America are still languishing in national prosperity relative to Canada and the United States. It is 2 Chronicles 7:14 at work!

Explanations from Sociology

globe
Many people believe that geography and environment are the predominant factor affecting the evolution of human society. The Bible does not say. But there are several other possible factors.

Geography may play a big role in human development. The frozen North, high mountains, deserts, and other features affect prosperity. There is an interesting study of Indians in the American Northwest, where the ones near the coast had advantages of hunting and fishing, while those of inland plateaus were much poorer. One theory is that northern latitudes, having cold winters, required more inventiveness. Life in Polynesia was apparently very easy, with lots of fish and fruit, which is something of a discouraging factor in developing new technology to cope with a tough environment. The population of the world increased dramatically after the introduction of agriculture, with greatest prosperity in the temperate climate zones. A good reference supporting this view is Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. The Bible has essentially nothing to say about geography, environment, and human standard of living, but there is most certainly a strong connection.

Enlightenment and reason, a cultural movement in 18th century Europe, promotes the idea that science and intellect are better than superstition and intolerance. This, of course, is true, but not when taken to extremes. Enlightenment thinking can lead to Godly results such as the American Declaration of Independence, but it can also be used to eliminate God from society altogether, concluding, for instance, that biblical faith and intellectual reason must exclude each other.

A case for the link between the Bible and the rise of modern science is made by Reijer Hooykaas. He points out the intense post-reformation scientific activity in England and Holland and links this to the Reformed idea of nature separate from God, but following God's laws. These laws, then, can be discovered and expressed in mathematics. Universal education, promoted by the reformers so that everyone could read the Bible, also made a big impact.

But, in general, enlightenment thinking asserts that human society remains static until self-motivated human intellect intervenes. The Bible does not support this man-centric view. Instead, the Bible asserts that the fear of God begets knowledge (Proverbs 1:7) and that man, left to himself, comes up short.

Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and turn away from evil.
- Proverbs 3:7 [NASB]

Government policy may have an affect, at least the politicians hope so. Since rules structure the interactions between people, it makes sense that they play a large role in human development. According, again, to Romer, as population density increases, the idea of ownership becomes an important rule, and rules for managing violations of ownership emerge. The Jews and the Bible were instrumental in replacing old ideas of deadly vengeance with monetary compensation (see Eye for Eye, Tooth for Tooth on this web site).

Rules can amplify or stifle technological progress. China was the world leader in inventing new technologies until about a thousand years ago, when centralized dynastic rules slowed innovation by requiring all inventions made during the reign of an emperor be destroyed upon the emperor's death.

The Bible says that God Himself ordains civil government and empowers it with a mandate to keep the peace and execute capital punishment (e.g., Romans chapter 13). It also draws a clear distinction between civil government and Godly affairs:

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's.
- Matthew 22:21 [NASB]

leaving to government officials the freedom to implement policies that encourage economic and technical progress. Those that suppress such progress are soon out-competed, a type of national survival-of-the-fittest. You will not find explicit biblical formulas for concepts such as taxation, free market, national defense, and import/export policy. But there are clear principles for civil leaders, as already discussed.

Rejection of Racial Supremacy

Hitler
Notorious German racist Adolph Hitler

Racial supremacy is the belief that a particular race is superior to others and entitles those who identify with it to dominate, control or rule those who do not. This, some say, is a primary factor in socioeconomic disparity. They say this even in the light of the several explanations offered above, all of which are much more plausible than race as the determining factor.

If racial supremacy, why stop there? In fact, racial supremacy is a sub-class of supremacism which widens the envelope to include supremacy of select species, ethnic groups, religions, genders, sexual orientations, classes, belief systems or cultures (Wikipedia). These are all divisive concepts, breaking down, and not building up society.

The Ku Klux Klan sought to restore white supremacy in the South after the American Civil War. They preached supremacy over all other races, as well as over Jews, Catholics and other minorities. Black Muslim supremacy arose as a counter to white supremacism. During the early 20th century the propaganda of the Empire of Japan promoted the idea that the Yamato was a superior race, destined to rule Asia and the Pacific. Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party preached the existence of an Aryan master race and attempted to establish through conquest such an empire throughout Europe. In Africa, black Southern Sudanese allege that they are subjected to a racist form of Arab supremacism, which they equate with the historic white supremacism of South African apartheid.

There is no end to racism in the world, and it is a strong indicator of mankind's sinful nature, as described in the Bible. Racism tears down civilization; it does not build up civilization. In fact, the Bible teaches that we are to practice the exact opposite of racism, that all men are created equal and they are to love one another as neighbors, building up our civil bonds.

Opening his mouth, Peter said: 'I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.'
- Acts 10:34ff [NASB]

This absence of partiality with God pervades the entire Bible, from Genesis, where God created all mankind in His image:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
- Genesis 1:27 [NASB]

to Revelation, where every nation come to worship God.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they cry out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.'
- Revelation 7:9ff [NASB]

Even though the Bible insists there are no distinctions in race (cited above, as well as in our articles on racism at this link and at this one also), stubborn people still argue about it continuously, probably because it is such a juicy topic and because it can be interpreted to serve selfish interests. In fact, no reliable conclusions have been drawn, for instance, in the question of a correlation between intelligence and race, but there is plenty of evidence that supports the Bible's claim that all men, being created equal, carry comparable innate intelligence (e.g., this list of recent inventions).

Summary

In summary, we have presented nine possible explanations for the vast disparity in national outcomes around the globe. Some or all, no doubt, have contributed to various extents in various situations, but only four of the eight are endorsed by biblical principles. Here is the list:

  • Endorsed by the Bible:
    • Proper or improper treatment of Jews
    • Level of unity and purity in the society
    • Moral righteousness of national leaders
    • Adherence to, or freedom from, faulty religion
    • Obedience to God, or lack thereof, of Christians and Jews
  • Bible neutral:
    • Geography and environment
    • Enlightenment and reason
    • Government policy
  • Shunned by the Bible:
    • Racial supremacy

by Paul Richards

Mon, 26-Jun-2017 03:45:11 GMT, unknown: 642333 ABlCpQYAh3z4M
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