The first minister I ever met after converting to Christianity often made fun of books with titles like The Seven biblical Principles for a Happy Marriage. He would hold up a copy of the Bible and thumb through the pages while challenging anyone to find him a happy marriage in these pages. The point was funny but also sound. We should not try to pretend that the Bible directly addresses modern issues that it actually doesn’t address, and we shouldn’t try to cram our favorite mottos and messages into Biblical stories if they aren’t actually there.
There’s a similar problem with trying to find any financial advice in the Bible. The Bible was written thousands of years before modern economic systems existed, and hence it does not directly address modern economics. It does, however, contain stories, songs, prayers and sermons whose principles are valid across the ages, and with that in mind we may look for hints of what direction we should move in.
Every intelligent person knows, of course, that the Book of Genesis is a worthless collection of old fairy tales that no one can take seriously anymore; I’ve heard internet users say so scores of times. I’m not here to comment on the validity of that assertion. In chapter 41 of Genesis, Pharoah has two dreams and asks for someone to interpret them. Joseph is brought from prison and explains the meaning of the dreams: there will be seven years of abundance, followed by seven years of famine. Joseph then advises Pharoah to store up grain from the good years so that his people will have plenty to eat during the lean years that follow. This proves to be a good advice, though again I offer no commentary on whether the Book of Genesis contains anything worthwhile for modern readers.
The United States of today is in a position similar to the Egypt of four thousand years ago. We are a wealthy, powerful nation with plenty for ourselves and the might to intimidate every nation around us. We have also had a time of abundance. From roughly 1983 to 2007, we have experienced the greatest prosperity of any nation in world history. So did the nations of western Europe and other first-world nations.
Now what did we do with that amazing prosperity? One who wasn’t in touch with events might think that we’d take advantage of it by putting ourselves on a solid future. Surely we would pay down our debts, repair crumbling infrastructure, build up schools and other institutions that would guarantee our future.
Of course we didn’t do any such thing. Our governments (federal, state, and local) squandered its surpluses on uselss foreign wars, corporate handouts, and jacking up spending in any area you’d care to name. Corporations bid it all on short-term schemes and “bubbles”. Individuals went hog-wild on massive houses, SUVs, HD TVs and other junk that they couldn’t afford. Not only did we spend all the fruits of our prosperity, we even took out massive loans to finance even more binge spending.
Then 2008 came, and the first bills started to come due. They are still coming due today. They will be coming due for a long time to come, and almost everyone in the western world will eventually have to put up with a lower standard of living than what we were used to.
If we had collectively approached fiscal decisions in the way that Joseph recommended to Pharoah, thinks might have gone differently.