Book Review: God’s Good Economy Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World – Andrew Hartropp (2019)

It’s the economy, stupid’ was the core campaign message that propelled Clinton to victory in the 1992 Presidential election over George H. W. Bush (despite the latter having an 89% approval rating just one year before). [1] The big idea was that no matter how well everything else is going, what matters is the economy. If the economy is struggling, voters crave change.

The British experience speaks of this too. Ever since the 2008 financial crash British politics has largely been divided on economic lines, with the issues of austerity, and more recently socialism particularly prominent. Even the Brexit debate which has raged since the announcement of a referendum has taken a largely economic tone. Ideas of identity and patriotism, significant drivers for individual voters, were largely overlooked in public debate which tended to focus on talk of membership costs and trade deals. 

The 2019 election will perhaps go down as ‘the Brexit election’ but one cannot underestimate the economic debate playing out between a Conservative party moving left on the economy and arguably the most left-wing Labour party this country has ever had the chance of voting for. 

Economics matters. It is arguably the main language of politics and therefore as Christians seeking to participate in the public square, we must learn to speak this language. We must do more than simply speak the language however; we must understand our place within the debate. 

For this Andrew Hartropp’s ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ proves an invaluable aid. Cutting through the instinctive partisanship displayed on economic issues between the left and right, Hartropp’s book walks us through the Biblical narrative of ‘Creation -> Fall -> Redemption -> New Creation’ to understand a Biblical position on economics. [2]

Steering clear of an ideological debate between the merits of neoliberalism, Keynesian, or socialist positions on the economy, Hartropp characterizes the position of the Christian economist as one concerned with economic justice. [3] This book is not concerned with rules, nor with airlifting scripture and applying it without discernment to our 21st Century situation; rather this work helpfully calls on believers to Biblically reflect on the principles on which their economics are based. [4]

Hartropp’s core argument then challenges the assumption that Christianity has nothing relevant to say on the matter of economics, instead arguing that justice in economics matters because God loves justice and plans to establish a kingdom of perfect justice. [5] Whilst economic justice is not an alien concept to modern Britain, this book presents a helpful critique of the hollow and confused concept of ‘justice’ bandied around. Justice is not defined merely by human thinkers but is rooted in the very character of the creator God. 

A Biblical understanding of economic justice, Hartropp suggests, means treating people according to God’s norms, with an emphasis on helping the poor and vulnerable, the quality of relationships, and the participation by all in God’s blessings. [6] Right relationship with God and with one another therefore should form the cornerstone to any conversation about economics. 

In an era of globalization, centralization, and mass capitalism, this emphasis on relationships can feel misplaced and irrelevant as individuals are so often removed from those participating in the chain of production. However with great clarity, Hartropp’s analysis of Biblical principles teases out the value placed on relationship both in Biblical teaching but also in our experience of economics. 

The structure of the book moves through the levels of relationship from individuals as consumers, workers, and bosses, to institutions as churches, firms and corporations, banks and financial institutions, through to governments both national and international. [7] At each level, Hartropp presents the case for, and outworkings of, economic justice in our own relationships (consumers through to churches) and in and through other economic institutions and participants (firms through to governments). [8]

Whilst not all will agree with the conclusions Hartropp comes to at the practical and policy level, this book presents an accessible and Biblically rooted presentation of economics. Convicting and uplifting in equal measure, God’s Good Economy radically reframes the debate on economics seen in contemporary discourse, giving Christians confidence the Bible is relevant.

Hartropp’s work does not present the practical budget that some may seek, but convincingly argues that Scripture is not only relevant but a positive and necessary manifesto for economic change and calls on believers to consider its substance. 

Vitally, God’s Good Economy balances the now and the not yet, the position we inhabit within the Redemption Narrative. Redemption is about saving souls for the future Kingdom, yes. Nonetheless, ‘Redemption means, among many other wonderful things, restoration of creation from the damage done because of humanity’s fall (rebellion against God).’[9] Redemption means restoration of the economy from the injustice and wrongs we see around us.

Outside of the future hope of God’s righteous kingdom there is little hope for economic justice for we live in a world broken by sin. Injustice then is seemingly inevitable but in light of God’s redemptive work we have good reason to hope; something that Hartropp clearly proclaims.

Hartropp references the economist Richard Layard, who notes the irrationality and self-defeating nature of greed but can only offer the solution; ‘We should of course try to educate people away from both envy and greed, since neither is conducive to happiness.’ [10] The Bible instead offers both the diagnosis and the cure for these problems.

God’s Good Economy points consistently to the flaws of the economy emanating from the flaws of the heart. [11] Yet as with the gospel, we are not left focusing on the greed of the human heart but in the righteousness of a savior; ‘Despite all the unrighteousness of humankind, God has stepped down and stepped in for us.’ [12]

Just as the call to economic justice is rooted in God’s nature so is the power by which to achieve that economic justice. This book then urges us to better understand our God and better pursue His concerns in His power. 

The economic problems and injustice of the world do not find their solution in the ideologies of this life but in the God from whom all justice flows. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________

[1] Michael Kelly, ‘THE 1992 CAMPAIGN: The Democrats -- Clinton and Bush Compete to Be Champion of Change; Democrat Fights Perceptions of Bush Gain’, The New York Times (31st October 1992) & RJ Reinhart, ‘George H.W. Bush Retrospective’, https://news.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/234971/george-bush-retrospective.aspx (1st December 2018). 

[2] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), pp.2-3. 

[3] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.1. 

[4] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.162. 

[5] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), pp.1-5.

[6] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.16. 

[7] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019).

[8] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019).

[9] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.50. 

[10] Richard Layard, ‘Happiness and Public Policy: A Challenge to the Profession’, Economic Journal 116.510 (2006), C24-C33 cited in Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.136. 

[11] See for example, Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.138.

[12] Andrew Hartropp, ‘God’s Good Economy: Doing Economic Justice in Today’s World’ (2019), p.140.

Related Content