Friday, August 15, 2008

The negative correlation between poverty and Christianity

from the Chinese perspective. I was on vacation when this came out; very interesting piece. An excerpt:
One of the most important dissenting voices in China today belongs to Peter Zhao, a Communist Party member and adviser to the Chinese Central Committee. Mr. Zhao is among a group of Chinese intellectuals who look to the West to find the key to economic success. Mr. Zhao in particular believes that Christianity and the ethical system based upon its teachings are the reason that Western countries dominate the global economy. "The strong U.S. economy is just on the surface," he says. "The backbone is the moral foundation."

Without a unifying moral system enforced by common values, Mr. Zhao argues, there can be no real trust between people. Without faith among business partners and between management and shareholders, only the threat of the law can keep people honest. "There are problems of corruption emerging. . . . There is concern about whether China's market economy will ever become a sound market economy."

Mr. Zhao has made his case in both popular and academic publications in the past several years, publishing more than 200 articles -- for instance, "Market Economies With Churches and Market Economies Without Churches" -- explaining how Christianity leads to long-term growth. "From the ancient time till now everybody wants to make more money," Mr. Zhao told me. "But from history we see only Christians have a continuous nonstop creative spirit and the spirit for innovation."

Mr. Zhao began formulating his ideas during a 2002 trip to the U.S. "In the U.S., the spires of churches are more numerous than China's banks and rice shops. On a street near Harvard Square," Mr. Zhao recalls, "I once stood and looked about me, only to find that in three different directions there were three churches." The trip seems to have made a personal as well as an intellectual impression. Shortly after returning home, Mr. Zhao became a Christian himself.

Mr. Zhao's argument goes beyond the need for common values. He claims that Christianity produces greater wealth than other religions or no religion. His view is partly historical -- the wealthiest societies are those that are traditionally Christian, either Catholic or Protestant. He says that Christianity provides three elements necessary for economic growth: motivation -- those who work for God rather than for pleasure, money or status don't tire of being productive; a moral framework that makes for less exploitation and less corruption; and a mandate to care for the poor and disenfranchised.

"Traditionally," he says, "when Chinese become rich, they buy houses or maybe they marry a second wife." But they start to become lazy. Not so with Americans. "Even Bill Gates is still working very hard." Christians, he says, not only have a higher motivation but will use their wealth for the benefit of others. "It's like Sam Walton," Mr. Zhao says, citing the founder of Wal-Mart, whose headquarters he visited recently. "He had a lot of wealth, but he still lived simply, and he used his wealth to bless a lot of other people."

Of course, Mr. Zhao is not the first to make the connection between Christianity and capitalism. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, is well known for lamenting Christianity's propensity to create wealth. "I fear, wherever riches have increased, the essence of religion has decreased," Wesley explained in a sermon called "The Uses of Money." "For religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches."
I should note here that the Scottish Enlightenment was incubated in a highly Calvinistic society. Ironically, when England adopted the principles of Adam Smith, David Hume, Thomas Reid et al, their GDP overtook China's as the world's largest and Britain became a world empire: A small nation, without any competitive edge in natural resources.

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