Anne R. Bradley

Dr. Anne Bradley is the George and Sally Mayer Fellow for Economic Education and Vice President of Academic Affairs at The Fund for American Studies. Born and raised in Alexandria, VA, Dr. Bradley graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Economics from James Madison University. After several years out of academia, she returned to George Mason University, where she earned both her M.S. (2002) and her Ph.D. (2006) in Economics. She was interviewed as the co-editor of the outstanding book Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism (2017)—to some extent an update and translation on Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982).

Professional Background

Anne Bradley:

My educational background begins at James Madison University, which is where I did my undergraduate work. It’s a middle size state school in Virginia. When I went there, I decided I wanted to study economics. I started doing that right off the bat and took a few years off after undergrad, but was pretty convinced I wanted to be an academic and a professor. When I was ready, I entered George Mason University and did my combined PhD and Master’s Program there.

From there, interesting story, when I was in graduate school, 9/11 happened. I started working with one of my mentor professors on writing about terrorism from an economic point of view. This was his idea, not mine, but I said, sure, let’s do this. I became really enthralled with how economics could help us understand something that seemed so impossible to understand.

I did my dissertation on the economics of Al-Qaeda when I was at George Mason. Right after graduate school, I went to the CIA and I worked as an analyst. I was working in tariff finance so we were trying to figure out the movement of resources and dollars amongst tariff groups. I did that for a couple of years, then went back into the nonprofit and teaching sector. I work at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. Where we commission research towards a biblical understanding of human flourishing and economic freedom. I also do some teaching at Grove City College. I teach at George Mason with the fund for American studies, and I teach at a small graduate program in DC called the Institute for World Politics. I get the best of both worlds and that I get to do some research and I also get to be in the classroom.

Any comments about your personal life?

Anne Bradley:

Interesting. I live in Northern Virginia, right outside of DC, and I’m actually a Northern Virginia native. I was born in Alexandria, and we’ve just migrated to the West, so we can still afford to live here. I have two brothers. I’m the oldest. Our parents have moved out here, so they can be near my husband and my children. We love Virginia. We love living in Loudoun County. I have a husband, I think we’ve been married for almost 13 years now, so that’s exciting. We have two small children, an eight-year old boy named Parker and a four-year old girl named Bailey. It’s just a joy to be raising children. I think family life is one of my biggest joys and that really defines your hobbies and your interests at this stage, but I love that.

What people or events have shaped who you are?

Anne Bradley:

So who I am today I think there’s a lot of stories I could tell there, but I’m going to tell just a few, starting with how I was raised. I was raised in a Christian home, and as I mentioned, I have two brothers. So I’m the only girl and I’m the oldest. And I remember growing up and I wasn’t… I ran cross country and track, but I did it to please my dad because he was a track runner. He never tried to force me to do it, but I just wanted to do it for him. And I was really the worst person on the team. So, I was never a big athlete. I did it because I wanted to, but I was never going to be great. So my dad and I didn’t bond over sports in the same way that fathers and sons bond.

But growing up right outside of Washington, D.C., my dad loved to watch these Sunday afternoon political talk shows, which I find funny now because I do not like to watch them at all. But growing up, he would turn those on after church if it wasn’t football season. And I would watch those shows with him, and we would talk about politics, we talk about ideas. And that’s the way that I bonded with my father.

So fast forward to when I was in high school, I got this really interesting letter in the mail and it was an offer to go with a bunch of high school students from different high schools. So it would be people I didn’t know, to go to five different countries over the summer. It was through an organization called People to People. And I got this. This was just probably a mass letter that everybody got. And I went to my parents and I said, “I have to do this.” And I remember it was like $3,500. And they said, “Okay, well, if you do this, then we can’t help you get a car. So you have to choose, do you want to go on this trip or do you want to get a car?” And this is maybe my only point of wisdom as a 16 year old, but I said, “I want the trip.” And that trip, I look back on it now and it was life changing in a way that I did not know it at the time.

We went to five countries, one of which was the Soviet Union. So when I landed in the Soviet Union and I saw what it was like to be escorted around Moscow, to be not allowed to go where you’re not officially allowed to go, and to be told that if you trade, the Russians are going to want to trade, they’re going to know you’re an American because of the jeans and the shoes and the jackets that you’re wearing, and if you trade on the so-called black market, you’re going to be thrown in a Russian prison. I mean, this was terrifying to me. I didn’t understand it. I was a young kid. And I remember being so happy to be home after that, but being profoundly changed by that experience in ways that I couldn’t articulate when I was young.

So, honestly I think that was a huge experience for me in young adulthood that led me to become an economist. And that led me to be somebody who wants to think about my Christian faith and how that’s connected to my deep desire to advocate for free and flourishing society. Because I think I got to see at an impressionable age what it’s like to not have any freedom and to live under the threat of oppression. So, I think those are big moments that shaped who I am today.

What do you care about most professionally?

Anne Bradley:

I professionally am interested in advocating for a free society. And what that means, I think for me as an economist, is trying to make the ideas of economics and what I would like to call the economic way of thinking, that’s not my phrase but I think it’s an important one, accessible to all of us, because I really think that we’re all after the same things, especially people who call themselves Christians. I think we want to do what we believe God put us here to do. We want to find our purpose. We want to be fulfilled in the pursuit of that purpose, but that is not just about us.

So there’s one aspect of that that’s very personal, theological. Then there’s another aspect that begs the question what type of society must we live in if we are to be free to live into our purpose, to do what God created us to do? So that’s really my passion and I do it by being in the classroom, by talking as much as I can about the ideas of economics and really grounding them in biblical principles, because I think there’s no questioning that. For Christians, it’s what does the Bible say? We believe that it’s the truth and what are the principles that inform how we live today? That I think professionally is my biggest passion.

More broadly than that, my family life I think is part of that. For me, it’s not just being an economist, it’s being a wife, it’s being a mother. It’s being part of my community and my church and there’s great joys in all of that. And that is all very connected for all of us.

What is the Institute of Faith Works & Economics mission?

Anne Bradley:

The work of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, we are an organization that started in about 2011. And really what we’re trying to do is start with biblical truth. What does it say in scripture about who we are? What are we doing here? I always say to people, what does Genesis have to do with life in the 21st century? And that’s what we want to do because we want to reconnect people with the truths of scripture and help them understand how to live that out.

So really what we’re not trying to do is be policy advocates. We’re not trying to tell people what to think the next tax policy, but we’re trying to give people principles that allow them to come to their own conclusions about that. And I think there’s real power in that.

So part of the initiation of our Institute was the real observation over the past 150 years of this kind of sacred secular divide that has permeated Christian thinking, which is that God cares about what I do on Sunday. He cares about whether I’m reading my Bible, whether I’m going on a mission trip, whether I’m tithing, but what if I’m an accountant, or a janitor, or an economist who cares? That’s just so I can tithe, that’s just so I can take care of my family. That’s a real dangerous disconnect because God… If you’re supposed to be an accountant, that means God created you to be an accountant. And that means that being an accountant has value; intrinsic value.

So we really want to reconnect and we start with scripture and then go all the way towards, what does it mean to advocate for a free society so that people can do that?

What is your and IFWE’s worldview?

Anne Bradley:

IFWE’s conception of worldview absolutely starts with Genesis and I think there are a couple of basic principles that would inform that broader worldview. One is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. And if you buy that, there’s very profound implications for each of us as people, which means that we’re here for a reason. But more than that, that you were created in a specific way to do specific things, and there’s never been another you.

So what you’re doing is important. So really what we’re about is stewardship. Every minute matters. God has given you this combination of skills and talents and intellect in your filter of the world, your observation of the world and with all those things, you’re supposed to do something unique.

And when you do that, you are part of reweaving Shalom. Shalom, not just meaning peace, that’s how we often translate Shalom, we mean God’s redemptive work in the world. So really bringing things back as close as possible to the way they were supposed to be. Perfect Shalom won’t be achieved until God returns. So that’s really what we’re about and that we each have agency in that, we each have a role to play and that our work today has eternal significance. And we don’t know what that looks like, but we know it’s true.

How would you group “atheists” in America?

Anne Bradley:

Most of my interaction is, I’m asked to go interact on Christian college campuses. I would say in some ways my exposure to atheists on the ground in terms of actually interacting is limited. Now just because you’re on a Christian campus, doesn’t mean there’s not atheists there, but I think that there’s a couple categories that I can talk about just in terms of observing the conversations that people are having more broadly outside of the classroom perhaps. I think one is just this idea of, as you mentioned, materialism, which is that there’s no agency that’s divine. The thing that I started with before we’re Imago Dei, created in the image of God. If that’s true, then there’s profound implications for the value of the human person, which in a weird way is anti-materialist, right, because material stuff can fade away.

The non-material stuff for a Christian is important. Maybe it’s the most important thing, but I think when you go down the path of atheism that’s profoundly obsessed, I would say, with materialism, then that’s all the human person is about. That gets us into these weird policy conversations, which have to do with income redistribution, right? Because a person’s worth is only revealed perhaps by their income, because your status doesn’t, or your value, there’s no dignity. I think that’s one aspect of it.

I think another aspect of it is really just a postmodern claim that truth is inherently relative. There is no truth. We talk about it now, people say, “I’m going to speak my truth,” and this is a phrase that drives me crazy because there is no my truth. There is the truth, and so I think postmodern atheism is really butting up against that and trying to make the claim that your truth is your truth, my truth is my truth, and what that means is that anything goes, there’s no rules.

Describe some of the issues that arise today between Christians and atheists.

Anne Bradley:

The question is, how do we come into a society and live amongst each other, if we’re all self-interested, which is a principle of economics, but an observation of people when there’s no doing anything wrong? When anything goes, it’s very hard to live amongst each other that way.

I think these are the strains that I find very dangerous. Here’s why. They’re very attractive to perhaps the next generation, because it sounds good to create your own rules. It almost sounds like tempting to say, “I’m a Christian, but if I could just kind of soften some of these rules, then I could have my version of Christianity.” I think the problem is atheism doesn’t just stay in atheism and Christian stay in Christianity. That’s not what God wanted. He wants us to be salt and light and interact. But what we have to do is be careful that we’re not adopting these ideas of postmodernism and atheism and incorporating them into a softer Christianity that kind of just lets us do what we want.

These are some of the, I think, the biggest concerns that I have that could be the most damaging.

What trends in Christianity do you see now?

Anne Bradley:

I think the biggest trend that we’re seeing is people are walking away from church attendance. So I’m going to tie that data point back to your question, which is that, it may go back to, “I want to do things the way I want to do it.” So the problem with a fractionalized church is that you have a church and then you have maybe a group of people in the church that don’t like the direction of the church. We might say, that’s a good thing especially if the church is doing something that’s unbiblical. And then what do they do? They start a new denomination, or they start a new version. I’m a Presbyterian. This is happening a lot in the Presbyterian church. So I think the problem is that people are pulling away and starting their own thing. So we see these kind of disparate groups among Christianity. And what unites them?

I mean, can we answer that question in the 21st century, maybe the same way we would answer it in 1900 at the onset of the 20th? I don’t think so. So I’m a little worried about this. And if you look at church attendance among millennials, it’s going down. And that doesn’t mean that people… we don’t want to judge. Right? Maybe they’re doing it their own way. Maybe they’re reading scripture, but it is concerning, because I think a church is a place we get discipled by others and we need to submit ourselves to that. And I think that takes some humility and some submission to what God’s asking us to do. So I’m worried a little bit about the future. Now, the digital age gives us a lot of interesting ways to kind of consume church in ways that we couldn’t 50 years ago.

So that might be a good thing. If you’re traveling, you can watch a church sermon on TV, or you can listen to a podcast from your pastor. Those are good things, but I do worry about the breaking up of that routine of coming together on Sunday. So I’m not sure what the answer to your question is, but I don’t see convergence in terms of we’re uniting around certain core principles.

I actually see the opposite, which is, when we don’t like something in a church, we just start a new denomination, instead of, what would the alternative have been 50, 70 years ago? We fix it in the church. The church doesn’t disband. It’s easier to do that now. And I think it becomes more confusing for Christians, especially people who are new Christians. “Where do I go to church? How do I even know to decipher what a Baptist church offers and a Presbyterian, Lutheran? I got all in my neighborhood. How do I know what they mean?” That’s a harder thing to know, and it’s very individual to the church. So I think that might be a concerning trend.

Do worldviews grow together or clash?

Anne Bradley:

I really like this question. I dealt with some of it when I was working on my doctoral dissertation, because I was thinking about Al-Qaeda, why then, why that group, what motivated them, what influenced them. And part of it was this clash of civilization, right? It’s the west is imposing its values. Al-Qaeda is trying to restore the caliphate. It’s a clash of ideas, a clash of identities. And that was based on… That’s one specific example of that, but I guess my broader answer to your question is it depends.

So when we look at modern global market economies, I think the most profound thing to understand about this is when we trade with Mexico, we give them dollars and they give us bananas, you’re not just trading bananas for dollars, which become pesos, in that foreign exchange. We’re trading ideas, we’re trading values, we’re trading conceptions about what it means to engage in a contract with each other. We’re exchanging ideas about the value of property rights. I mean, that’s a profound and amazing thing.

And so this is a good thing. And I think that economists talk a lot about cosmopolitanism, which is this notion that when we start engaging in trade over goods and services, and we start this engaging in trade of culture and ideas, then we actually have a really neat opportunity to evangelize ideas about property rights, about trade, about people being free, things that we would trace back to the roots of Christianity. So I don’t think just because cultures are different and they come into contact with one another, that it necessarily means there has to be a fight to the death.

But as I said, it depends. So if somebody views a culture as being imposed upon them, I suspect there will be a big fight, a turf battle, but in the global age that we’ve viewed over the last 100 years, but even more specifically, the last 50 years, we’re engaging in all sorts of cultural and idea exchange and it’s exciting. Because what we’re seeing is that more places in the world are adopting property rights. These bigger ideas of economic freedom that we think are so important, those are spreading, and we want that to happen as much as possible. So I don’t think it always has to be a clash.

Does your worldview influence your daily life?

Anne Bradley:

If you have a worldview that you believe is absolutely true, it should influence your daily life and your choices. What does that look like for me? I can tell you one, just from having small children, it influences every aspect of how I’m raising them. And it’s a very counter-cultural thing that we’re saying, which is that you can’t be anything you want to be. That is a lesson I’m teaching my kids.

This is not what the Disney Channel teaches my kids, right? It teaches them choose any… Like you’re looking at a menu of career choices and you say, “I want to be X.” “I want to be a doctor because doctors get a lot of prestige and they make a lot of money.” That doesn’t work like that.

Why do I not believe it works like that? Or why do I believe it does not work like that? Because God created us in a very unique and specific way. So I think that’s one way that it influences daily decisions, which is how am I raising my kids. I’m raising them to believe that God created them for something specific. And the best way to live a fulfilling is to live into that and not listen to what the culture tells you, which is get the biggest number of zeros on your paycheck, or be as famous as you can be. Because when you try to do something that’s counter to how God created you’re going to be frustrated. And I’ve experienced this in my own life.

In fact, my time at the CIA, which is what everybody gets excited about on my bio, I was miserable. It was not the right job for me, based on my skills. You know I don’t regret it, but it wasn’t the place for me to be long term. And so I want my children to think about that.

I also want my children to believe that they have a responsibility on this earth. Nobody owes them anything just because they’re here. And I think that is of my economic way of thinking and my biblical way of thinking, which is that people have great capacities to serve their neighbors and to love each other and to create great wealth, but we need the right setting to do that. And so I want my children to advocate for that in their future lives.

What are some of Christianity’s key presuppositions?

Anne Bradley:

The presuppositions that we take and what’s neat about IFWE is that we’re theologians and economists coming together to try to be interdisciplinary and create this framework in which people can think through who they are and what they’re supposed to do, or how they’re supposed to think about the world. What we start with is anthropology. Meaning, who are we? It’s one thing to say we’re made in God’s image. We understand that, but what does it mean? I’m just going to list a few things that it means.

It means that we are not actually God. He can create something out of nothing. We can’t do that. We live in a world of scarcity. We can create something out of something and we are called to do that. That’s one important point.

I think the other important point is we have purpose. We’re not wind-up robots that you set off. Nobody winds us up in the day. We have a filter by which we try to assess what’s good for me. We call this self-interest. Now, self-interest is different than greed, but we do say that everybody is self-interested, meaning they try to do what they think is best for them and they try to do it at the lowest possible cost.

Then the other thing is just that we’re limited. We can’t do everything on our own. Part of our anthropology is that we’re social. You see us in the image of God, the Trinity, a relational being. We are relational beings. We’re going to require a society that encourages community and relationships.

I think those are really important foundational aspects of our narrative, our framework, and our thinking about how do we talk to Christians in the 21st century about freedom and flourishing. Well, you have to start with those principles of human anthropology, because that tells you what we’re going to be capable of and what we’re incapable of. I think that’s where you have to start the conversation.

What does self-interest mean to a Christian?

Anne Bradley:

Self-interest is one of the most misunderstood concepts among everybody. I mean, my non-Christian students. It’s confusing. Because it sounds like we’re being greedy and self-interest is just the way that you choose. In fact, it’s what God created you to be self-interested what does it mean? It means you’re trying to live in to the things that benefit you. Here’s the distinction. It benefits you to make Christ the center of all your decisions, that’s in your self-interest. But that means you have to constrain yourself. You have to say no to things. You can’t indulge every whim. And so self-interest is not about unmitigated greed, it’s what’s the filter of your choices. And when Christ is the center of our self-interest, our self-interest has great benefits.

What is the Biblical narrative?

Anne Bradley:

So the story of scripture that informs how we live, I think there’s a couple things that I would try to pull out there that are important. And one is that the whole story fits together. It was written to tell a story that’s very consistent. So if you start with Genesis and you go to Revelation, you’re given everything that you need.

And I think that story is very relevant for the modern world. I think we forget that. And that’s why in our work, we really start, we hammer down on Genesis 1 and 2 because we get a lot of what we need to understand who we are. So Genesis tells us the story of our creation. It gives us meaning. We get the creation mandate in which we have our purpose. And then we see very quickly, when we were just talking about self-interest, we see what happens when our view of what’s good for us gets distorted by sin. So we’re given a choice. We’re given freedom and agency to choose.

And what happens when we choose sin? Well, the fall happens and it breaks lots of our relationships with ourself, with each other, with God and with His creation. So we’re told everything’s going to be harder. Everything’s going to be more difficult. Everything’s going to be more painful, but you still got to do it.

So the fall, I’m going to spend a lot of time, I guess on the beginning of scripture, but the fall breaks and makes it harder for us to do what we’re supposed to do, but it doesn’t undo the mandate. Be fruitful and multiply never goes away. So the rest of scripture gives us principles about that struggle of being fruitful and multiply. And we see many, many people that God chooses and they fall to all this sin. Look at David, you look at Solomon, you just see it through scripture.

You look at what Mary and Joseph are asked to do and you just think God chooses sinful people who He knows are going to mess up, who He knows are going to fall to sin, and who He knows are people who look around and say, “Why on earth would God choose me to do this?” That’s the story after story after story. And what is the lesson from all that is that we got to be ready when God calls us because He’s going to call ordinary people. Those people are going to question why they were ever asked to do anything for His purposes.

We’re all Davids. We all have these Goliaths that we’re fighting. And he’s asked us to do that and it’s about obedience to that and the blessings that come from obedience. Life is going to be more fulfilling when we do the hard things that God ask us to do. Life is hard. It’s promised that it will be hard. We learn a lot about trials in scripture.

What about Revelations, the story’s end?

Anne Bradley:

And I think at the end of the story, in Scripture that we have, is a glimpse into the future. So if we talk a lot about not so much heaven, but we talk about the new heaven and the new earth. Which is this idea that my boss, Hugh Whelchel, always says that, “Kind of the truncated view of Christianity is to say, well, I’m a sinner. I need to be saved. And so I get saved and then what happens?” Well, I have my bus ticket and I’m waiting on the bus to come, right? The bus is going to take me to heaven and that’s where we’re going to hang out on clouds. And we’re going to be with angels. You know, this version of heaven that you kind of learned in Sunday school that we need to go past.

We don’t talk about that. We talk about the new heaven and the new earth, when God restores his creation, Shalom is achieved and we get the best of all cultures, the best of all human creativity. And that’s why at, IfWe talk a lot about our work, having eternal significance. You being an accountant, me being an economist, a teacher, an engineer, a janitor, that stuff is going to be redeemed. And in the new heaven and the new earth we’re going to live and we’re going to work.

And we don’t know what that looks like. Will our families remain the same or be different? There’s a lot of questions, but I think faithfulness to what God has called us into today will be redeemed, rewarded, and glorified when God makes all things new again, and then we live for eternity. So scripture really gives us an essence of who we are, the struggle in who we are because of our sin, but in this vision towards the future, we can see, we can have an idea of what it’s going to be like to be reunited. And so that needs to inform all of our decisions about work and faith and life and family today.

Is this the dreaded imperialistic Whig interpretation of history?

Anne Bradley:

I hear a lot of these comments about the Whig interpretation of history, or we shouldn’t be imposing Western values on everybody else. This is kind of a resurgent idea in the classroom, I would say. In fact in some ways, I think you have to be careful about how you present the ideas of Adam Smith, because is it just kind of some elite guy that lived in the enlightenment who maybe was wrong and maybe, we shouldn’t follow what he said. And it’s not all Adam Smith.

But certainly what happened during the time of Adam Smith was remarkable in human history, I mean, absolutely remarkable. One of my favorite … we’re in an interview so we’re not showing graphs here. But one of my favorite graphs to look at, that I try to talk about and show to people every time I have the chance is, if you look at world income over the last 2,000 years, we call it the hockey stick graph in economics. Because world income from AD1 until about 1800 is zero. Hovers at the zero line and then shoots up. And it shoots up around the time of what we call the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t think that was inevitable. It wasn’t inevitable that we were going to get profoundly rich, and it’s not just rich people getting richer, it’s the fact that we’re sitting in a heated air conditioned room right now having a conversation, ordinary people. How do we get such luxuries as air conditioning and heating when George Washington, who was richer, more famous, more powerful, more politically connected than I will ever be, didn’t have a heater? He had a fire, right? He didn’t even … in fact when he was inaugurated, he only had one of his real teeth left in his mouth. I have all my teeth and I expect to have all my teeth for a long time.

So what is the difference? That’s not inevitable. For most of human history, most people lived at $100 or less. So it is actually shocking that changed. What is it? It’s about getting the ideas about who we are, about our position in society. What was profound about the industrial revolution is that, work was good and ordinary people had something to offer in their work. That was an idea. And it was an idea that the reformers had. It was an idea that Adam Smith and David Hume had.

So it was about a lot of people agitating for these ideas but that wasn’t enough. Those ideas had to be adopted and believed by people. And then they get incorporated into law, they get incorporated into how we view ourselves with respect to the government. Now there’s no such thing as a divine right of kings, right? I mean in this idea space. It’s that, you are just like me and you need to submit yourself to the rule of law in the same way I do. So I think why is your question important? Because it’s not inevitable, and it can reverse. We are not destined to be free and rich forever, we got to fight for that.

What is capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

Capitalism is a word that I do not like. You might say, wow, that’s kind of silly, because it’s on the front cover of your book. In fact, when we were thinking about the book, I said, oh, I don’t think we should use the word capitalism. But the whole point is, people are really starting to question capitalism again. They have, I think, forever. So, we said, okay, we’re going to deal, we’re just going to roll our sleeves up and get dirty and talk about what capitalism means. Capitalism is a term that originated, was originated by Karl Marx. It’s a derogatory term. If you know anything about Marx, he was someone who was very worried about excessive wealth accumulation. He believed work was inherently alienating. So, when I get into a commercial relationship with my employer, there’s a probability, a likelihood, that I’m going to be alienated from my work and I’m just going to, kind of, be a pawn, right? A cog in this machine.

And there’s no fulfillment in it. This is very different than the narrative that we talk about when we talk about work. And so, Karl Marx says, there’s the dirty capitalists, those are the holders of capital. That’s where this term comes into being. Capitalism as a system, what do we mean? And I want to be very clear about what the economic definition of this. The economic definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production. Now what does that mean? It means that private individuals, as firms, right? Hold property rights and they make investment decisions based on their assessment of what people want and need. Meaning, the United States government doesn’t own all the farms, the United States government doesn’t own all the manufacturing plants, right? Apple is a private company and they make stuff.

How do they make those decisions? Well, they kind of try to figure out what consumers want. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. So, capitalism is about that system of profit and loss. What’s profoundly important about capitalism, which Marx didn’t understand, is that it’s driven by consumers, it’s driven by you and I. See, if none of us go into Apple, the store, it’s not going to exist anymore or they’re going to have to change the way they do things, that’s the power of consumers. It’s very different than what Marx thought a capitalist system looked like. So, capitalism as a system hasn’t been around that long, it’s very much correlated with, kind of, the onset of the industrial revolution. And I would even say, there’s no system today that we can observe that’s perfectly capitalistic, right? Meaning, all individuals privately hold the means of production.

Why do you dislike the word capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

The reason I do not like the word capitalism is because it means a thousand different things to a thousand different people. So if we were to go out on the street and do a man on the spot interview and say, “What does capitalism mean?”, you would have every answer under the sun from the one I just gave, which is the economic answer to, well, it’s the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, or it’s a lot of different things.

And so that’s why I don’t like the word, because I think when you’re saying “Let’s talk about capitalism,” immediately in your mind, there’s an image, there’s an idea, there’s a definition. And so when we talk about capitalism, we’re all starting from a different place and our biases are loaded into that. I prefer to talk about a market-based society. Where are markets allowed to operate and when are they constrained? And what’s the range over that? And that’s a socie… That’s kind of less political or less ideological. So I think the problem with the word capitalism is it insights all this anger and emotion. And then it’s hard to talk about whether it’s good or not.

What is business’ function or goal in a Christian society?

Anne Bradley:

I think there’s a broad goal that business has from a Christian perspective, which is I hear some people say, “I’m pro business.” I don’t like that either because I don’t know what it means. Does it mean you’re pro big business? Does it mean you’re pro small business? I think what business is about is service. So entrepreneurship is what we really want to talk about. What do businesses do? Well, in theory, if we’re taking the biblical point of view, and then we’re layering in the economic freedom point of view, then businesses are there to serve other people. And they only get rewarded, they only get that profit if they do what consumers want them to do, what customer want them to do.

So business isn’t good for its own sake. It’s a means to an end, right? And the means to an end is giving us things that we couldn’t do on our own. So I mentioned George Washington earlier. I mean, this poor guy had one tooth left, right? He’s a big powerful guy. Why? Because he didn’t have Listerine and toothbrushes and toothpaste and all these things that ordinary people get easy access to today. That’s because of entrepreneurship. It’s because people don’t want their teeth falling out of their head when they’re 25, right? It’s because people don’t want to die of a tooth infection that a root canal can fix when you’re 30. And so business is about serving others, and it’s, in a commercial society, the most effective way that we’ve figured out to-date to serve strangers.

Is there a disconnect between Christian churches and their congregations concerning work?

Anne Bradley:

To me, this stems back to the problem that we’ve observed in the church over I would say the last 150 years, which is this sacred secular divide. So you’ll hear your pastor talk a lot about taking the youth group on a missions trip. And this is a good thing, so I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But you’ll never hear them talk about what can the people in the congregation do who are business leaders? How do they think about running their business in a godly way? Or how do they think about their positive contributions to the community? I think part of it is that pastors are not trained in seminary to think about those things. But I think it’s more fundamentally about this: Pastors care about the sacred. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you donating enough? Are you donating your time? Are you teaching Sunday school? And they’re looking for other pastors that they can help mentor.

But then that leaves the rest of us who go to a job that’s “secular” from nine to five, where’s the counsel that we get from the church? And I think it’s just not there. I don’t think this is from bad intentions, but I think that the pastors themselves are not being equipped to think about reuniting that divide, that all work is sacred. And so what we would say at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics is that if God calls you to be a pastor, you should do that with integrity and you should listen to the call and you should be obedient. But what if God also calls someone else to be a hedge fund manager on Wall Street? Which is vilified right now in our culture.

You should also do that with integrity and excellence, and you’re not less … You don’t have less dignity. You don’t have less purpose and more important, your work isn’t less important. It’s just different. That is a radical idea if you tell that to a lot of pastors and seminarians. So I really think we need to get these ideas into the seminary, because if all work matters, then all work matters. And then pastors need to be communicating with 90% of their congregation. Most of the people who sit in the pews on Sunday morning are not pastors and they don’t work in the church. Most of them work in the world and they need to have a connection to scripture with that. And they need to be counseled on that.

 Has the Church always missed the work message?

Anne Bradley:

To me, this stems back to the problem that we’ve observed in the church over I would say the last 150 years, which is this sacred secular divide. So you’ll hear your pastor talk a lot about taking the youth group on a missions trip. And this is a good thing, so I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But you’ll never hear them talk about what can the people in the congregation do who are business leaders? How do they think about running their business in a godly way? Or how do they think about their positive contributions to the community? I think part of it is that pastors are not trained in seminary to think about those things. But I think it’s more fundamentally about this: Pastors care about the sacred. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you donating enough? Are you donating your time? Are you teaching Sunday school? And they’re looking for other pastors that they can help mentor.

But then that leaves the rest of us who go to a job that’s “secular” from nine to five, where’s the counsel that we get from the church? And I think it’s just not there. I don’t think this is from bad intentions, but I think that the pastors themselves are not being equipped to think about reuniting that divide, that all work is sacred. And so what we would say at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics is that if God calls you to be a pastor, you should do that with integrity and you should listen to the call and you should be obedient. But what if God also calls someone else to be a hedge fund manager on Wall Street? Which is vilified right now in our culture.

You should also do that with integrity and excellence, and you’re not less … You don’t have less dignity. You don’t have less purpose and more important, your work isn’t less important. It’s just different. That is a radical idea if you tell that to a lot of pastors and seminarians. So I really think we need to get these ideas into the seminary, because if all work matters, then all work matters. And then pastors need to be communicating with 90% of their congregation. Most of the people who sit in the pews on Sunday morning are not pastors and they don’t work in the church. Most of them work in the world and they need to have a connection to scripture with that. And they need to be counseled on that.

I don’t think it’s been a problem since the inception. If you read the reformers, if you read Calvin, for example, he talks a lot about vocation and work. And I think that there’s modern theologians that are really trying to bring these ideas back as well. Os Guinness would be one, but there are others who are really trying to say, “We need to reunite this connection,” so I think that there’s reasons to be optimistic, but we need more voices in that space. So, no, I don’t think it’s existed forever perhaps.

I do think within Christian circles though, I can’t say I didn’t live a thousand years ago, but it’s probably always been the case that the priests and the pastors have had kind of a different view. There’s a different view that we cast on them than the business guy, the lawyer, the accountant. So maybe they’ve always been held in different lights, but I really do think that if you go back and read the work of the reformers, there was a strong call to not do that. And we’ve lost that, I think, over the past 100 years or so.

As a Christian, how do you think about profits?

Anne Bradley:

Profits are great. This is my short answer to that. Profits are leftovers, so that’s what I always want people to think about when they think about the word profit. Profit means leftover. Okay. So it means what’s the residual. What’s left. And we always tend to think about profit financially. So we think about what’s leftover in our Bank of America account right at the end of the month. And that’s fine. That is part of profit. But if we are created for a purpose, and we are stewards of what God has gifted us with, then everything is for profit.

You want to profit your time. You want to profit your talent. You want to profit your money. What is profiting your time mean? It just means I have leftover hours, right? I live a longer life, so I have leftover years. Profiting my talent means I have more to give. So profit is inherently a good thing.

Now, I will say the only qualifier here is how do you obtain profit? And we can’t have that conversation without having a conversation about capitalism and free markets. And what’s the role of the state, because it’s possible in some societies for people to quote unquote “profit”, to get something, by stealing it, by taking it, by oppressing others. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about legitimately earned profit, which can only come from serving. So it’s that idea of the business guy as the entrepreneur, or gal, right? Who serves, who’s filling a gap, filling a need. And when that person serves me, I have more time. I have more leftover.

How did “Counting the Cost” come about (with Michael Novak featured)?

Anne Bradley:

We had done a first edited volume called For The Least of These. And it was really bringing theologians and economists together to try to understand a Christian perspective of how to help the poor, help care for the poor. And we felt that it was a really successful project. So we said, “Okay, what’s our next project going to be?” And we really wanted to an edited volume. The benefit of that is that you have a lot of voices. So we have many authors and we wanted to do the same thing. Bring in economists, but also bring in theologians. And so when we were really wrestling with what are we going to talk about? There’s so many things we could. We said, “Okay, here’s the thing that we’re observing, is that there’s a lot of calls within Christian circles for socialism.” This is becoming a more popular term.

It sounds good on paper. Is it good? Should Christians be socialists? This is a question. So the flip side of that coin is how should we feel about capitalism? And we’ve talked already about how capitalism is a complicated word that brings up a lot of emotions. So we said, “Let’s deal with that”. Let’s really assemble a group of authors who are qualified to speak on this topic. And we didn’t want to be cheerleaders for capitalism. There’s a thousand books out there, and there are, some of them are good that just say, “Here’s why you should be for capitalism”. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to take people and say, “Who are the people that are really bringing legitimate questions? I’m a Christian. Should I be for capitalism? Or is it bad?” We wanted to take those honest questions and try to address them.

So each chapter is an effort to address a critique that Christians frequently bring against capitalism or that they’re questioning. And so each chapter is an attempt to take the reader through that critique. And then again, they the reader can decide. And when we came to this idea, we said, “Okay, Novak has to be part of this”. And we reached out to him and he said he would be willing to do it. And we said, “Look, this book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism”. For many people, they cite that book as a life changing book, in terms of it changed their minds, it changed their hearts. They went from again, advocating for socialism to more advocating for a free society. And I think that’s Novak’s position himself. He had that revelation. And so when we asked him, “Can you write an updated version of that book for the 21st century, in light of the fact that we have a new generation that’s clamoring supposedly for socialism?” And he said, “Yes”. And we’re just very blessed that we were able to have him be part of the book.

What is the theme of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is a really important book because it’s also not just a cheerleading book. It’s not written by someone who’s never questioned capitalism. I think that’s the power of it. So what is he talking about in the book?

The main idea in one sentence is that this kind of idea of a three legged stool. That to have a flourishing society, you have to have these pillars of freedom. You need economic freedom, you need political freedom, and you need pluralism. You need a society where you can debate ideas. And so he very much understood that there’s a certain ethos, a certain system of ethics that has to undergird a society where we’re going to be free, where we’re going to live amongst each other. And that’s a really powerful message, and I think relevant for the 21st century, so his message lives on.

Would your “hockey stick” be possible without Christianity?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t think so. I think that the hockey stick is predicated upon truths that come right out of scripture. Now some people have disdain for the scripture, don’t want to accept the scripture. But interestingly, they still accept some of the principles. Let me just talk about one, property rights. Property rights don’t work because we tell people to respect them. They work because people believe that it’s valuable to respect other people’s property, and to have your property respected. So this is a deep… How do I say this? This is a value or a belief that people have to hold deeply, for it to work. No business is going to make an investment in a society that’s rife with civil war, or sectarian violence. Why? Because you open up a factory, you might employ people for a couple days, and grenades hit it the next day, and the investment is gone.

Right? So, we know how to generate economic growth. But it’s not enough to say, okay everybody, you should believe in property rights. People have to deeply believe that. And, when they deeply believe that, they will respect others. So, right, it would be easy for me to go to my neighbor’s house and steal their stuff, why don’t I do it? I don’t do it, not just because I would go to jail if I do it. I don’t do it, because I believe it’s wrong to violate the property rights of others. So, I think that these ideas that come from the Judeo-Christian heritage, property rights, work, savings, right? Savings mean, you believe that you have a long time horizon, that you’re bringing up families. These values are critical, I think for this massive explosion of wealth, we’ve witnessed over the past 200 years.

Does wealth creation require certain self-limiting or even Christian values?

Anne Bradley:

Free enterprise or market based society works because again, we follow certain codes of conduct, certain rules of ethics, at least most people most of the time. You’re never going to get perfect. You’re going to always have theft, you’re always going to have greed, you’re always going to have violations of these norms, but the key is to get most people following them most of the time. This is what Adam Smith was worried about. He wasn’t worried about perfecting human beings, so he was very wise there. He knew that wasn’t possible. Society, to get it to run well, isn’t about finding the perfect people to run businesses or the perfect person to be the president or trying to find the Mother Teresas everywhere because we’re just going to fall short of that. People are not generally altruistic all the time.

I do think it’s that, it’s self limiting behavior that’s the key. Again, I gave the example that I could steal from my neighbors and I could be temporarily better off, but I restrain myself from doing that. That’s a code of ethics that I hold myself to and when we all, or when most of us restrain ourselves in that way, there’s a lot more flourishing. Freedom isn’t about using the state to tell us what to do and what not to do. It’s actually about getting a deeper set of norms and ethics that encourage people to do that on their own. I make my own choices not to steal, right? Because stealing, in the long run, is much more costly of a behavior for me than being productive.

Is there more than one way to produce Novak’s social three-legged stool?

Anne Bradley:

Yeah. I think the answer to that question is there is not one way, one unique way, but I think there are principles that always have to be in place. So the principles always have to be there. What are the principles? When we talk as economists about economic freedom, we’re actually talking about something that we empirically measure. So we’re looking at the rule of law. We’re looking at the protection of property rights. We’re looking at the size of the state. Are people of free to open businesses, to engage in trade, to trade internationally? And we go in and we measure that. That data that we can acquire, there’s a lot of is to get to that. So if you look at, let me just give a concrete example. It took the United States 150 years to experience their Industrial Revolution. That’s a long time. We had to have electricity before we had cell phones and we had to invent all these things from scratch.

Japan, this is a country that goes through their industrial revolution in 20 years. The countries that have not yet experienced an Industrial Revolution that Hans Rosling talks about so well, they will experience their industrial revolution in two decades, maybe less. So there’s not one way. It doesn’t take everybody 150 years. Here’s another example. What we’re seeing in the developing world is people are living in mud huts and when they get a little bit of an income increase, they get a cell phone. It’s very weird for us to look at that and say, “You live in a mud hut, but you have a cell phone.” Why? It took us a long time to do it. We had the house, we had the brick and mortar, way before we had the cell phone.

So it’s not going to look the same, but the principles in play are always the same. You have to have economic freedom, economic freedom gets better political freedom and better political behavior, and that is a self reinforcing thing potentially for even more economic freedom. And you have to have religious freedom, which is not a theocracy that’s imposed by the state on the people. So I think the principles are always there, but the way it’s manifested can be very different.

Why is the idea of socialism in the US experiencing a comeback?

Anne Bradley:

I’m not sure I can answer why socialism is experiencing a comeback, because as somebody who thinks about economic systems a lot, it’s very bizarre to me from an efficacy standpoint. In other words, it doesn’t have a lot of capabilities. But I think here’s what I have come to this conclusion. It sounds good on paper. I have a list of a lot of things, and I always say, “This sounds good on paper.” It sounds really good to say, “There are some people who are very rich. Bill Gates has a bunch of billions of dollars. We could take a billion from him and he would barely notice.” That may be true. Doesn’t mean it’s right. But it may be true that we could take a billion or two from him, from George Soros, all these rich guys, and give it to poor people. It sounds good on paper, but it’s not addressing the underlying issues of why people are poor.

See, societies that have economic freedom liberate people and liberate many people permanently. That redistribution I just talked about, here’s all we’re doing. We’re taking money from one place and we’re moving it to another place. Then what happens when all that’s gone? Well, then they need more. The poor stay poor and they just depend on the redistribution.

The fundamental root problem, it’s kind of dealing with the symptom, not dealing with the cause of the disease. The cause of the disease is people are poor because they’re excluded from market trade. They’re excluded from entrepreneurship. That’s what we need to fix. Economic freedom does that. Socialism does not.

Venezuela and Socialism

Anne Bradley:

To get some empirical examples to your question, it’s very hard for me to understand when my students suggest that socialism is a good idea when I point to modern day Venezuela. I mean, this is a society, every day you could do a Google search an article about Venezuela and every day you get another story of how people are in line, there’s no bread at the grocery store, babies are dying in the hospital because they can’t get penicillin. Something, that in the United States, my pharmacy has a big sign on the drive through, and it says, “Free antibiotics,” meaning no price. So why is it that we have tons of penicillin and people in Venezuela have zero? Again, we could think in terms of redistribution and say, “Well, we have a lot, they don’t have any. Let’s to take a lot from us and give it to them.” That might solve their problem tomorrow and it may be the case that we should engage in that charity, but that charity doesn’t solve the underlying problem of why the heck don’t they have penicillin. They don’t have it because there’s no incentives for businesses, for doctors, to provide services. It’s about a reform of the society, which socialism cannot do.

And end to add another layer of complexity, as the state takes over more control of the economy, which is what socialism about is about, it’s about the public ownership of the means of production, then the state automatically becomes more totalitarian because if you’re going to decide you have this farm and you’re going to grow this, you have this manufacturing plant and you’re going to do this, I’m going to tell you what to do, it’s command and control.

What is the fundamental problem with socialism?

Anne Bradley:

There’s no profit and loss. There’s no learning. There’s no trial and error. So if the state gets it wrong, people are just in trouble. Sorry, no penicillin for you because we couldn’t figure out how to make it work. So when that happens, the threat of revolution escalates. And what happens? The government becomes more and more totalitarian.

So totalitarianism is a natural outgrowth of socialism. It is a feature, not a bug. And I think we have to absolutely educate young people about this today because it’s this myth that it’s romantic and we’re just going to share and it’s kumbaya and everybody’s going to take from the rich guys. It doesn’t work. If it works, I would say let’s do it, but it doesn’t work.

Are the Scandinavian countries good socialist countries?

Anne Bradley:

Are Sweden, Denmark, and Norway successful socialistic countries? I love this question. My short answer is no and here’s why. They’re not socialist countries. This is kind of a Bernie Sanders-ism. It’s this idea that- Bernie Sanders, who is a guy I would love to have coffee with, but I’m not important enough I don’t think for him to have a meeting with me. I agree with him on a lot of things. I agree with him that we don’t want … Again, a butterfly.

Doug Monroe:

This important question.

Anne Bradley:

It is. It’s a great question.

Doug Monroe:

Damn right it’s important. And you’re exactly right, they’re not socialistic.

Anne Bradley:

It’s ridiculous. Yeah. All right, Ellie.

Are the Scandinavian countries even socialist?

Anne Bradley:

They’re not socialist countries. Socialism, again, implies that the state makes production decisions. The state tells you’re going to own this factory and you’re going to make nails and then we’re going to tell you how many pounds of nails to make. This is the Soviet Union. Okay. This is where Venezuela’s heading. Denmark, people are free to open businesses. In fact, there’s a lot of entrepreneurship in Denmark. So when Bernie Sanders says we should be more like Denmark, in some ways, he’s absolutely right. We should stop the overregulation of business, which I think is one of the big threats in the United States today.

It’s much easier to open a business in Denmark than in the United States. That said, what Bernie Sanders is really referring to is the redistribution. So there’s more redistribution of kind of taking wealth through taxation and spreading it in attempt to be equal, not perfectly equal, of course, over the broader population. Here’s the other thing I would say, Denmark probably has a population of around eight million. This is the size of Manhattan. So it’s easier in some ways to engage in this type of activity when you have a smaller population that’s more homogenous, the bigger your society is the harder it is to be “socialism.”

So I think this is kind of like a trick question from the Bernie Sanders of the world. They are not socialist. It’s not a socialist paradise and they have improvements they can make as well. But if you look at their rankings in terms of economic freedom, Denmark and the United States are almost tied. So it’s not a socialist paradise.

Why does socialism fail?

Anne Bradley:

The reason that socialism does not work in the long run, there’s a couple of reasons and they go right to the things we’ve been talking about. Who are we as human beings? And what are we capable of and what are we not capable of? So I think it comes down to anthropology and economics.

One, people are self interested, meaning I’m going to do what I think is going to benefit me and my family. That’s true of me. That’s true of somebody who runs a business. That’s true of somebody who runs a government. So that’s the first point. Everybody’s self interested, so you have to put the right incentives upon people.

Why does the business leader open a business? It’s not because he’s this altruist who cares about everybody, maybe he does, but the real reason is because he’s going to earn a profit, or she, if they do that and they do it properly.

So incentives is the second reason. We’re self-interested, we respond to incentives. We can’t rely on altruism. That’s the problem with socialism. It requires people to kind of have no incentive to do some of these things.

The other thing or idea is knowledge. F.A. Hayek, very famous economist in the 20th century, talked about what he deemed to be the knowledge problem. And he said the reason that socialism fails is because we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I mean, think about some of the most successful companies.

Walmart. Walmart didn’t start out as the Walmart we know it today. Microsoft didn’t start out. Bill Gates is tinkering around in his parents’ garage. This is a story of trial and error. They had to become that. Why? Because they constantly are engaging with their customers. They’re trying to give customers better quality, lower prices. That’s the name of the game.

So the problem is that the socialist planners give orders, right? They say, “Start a Microsoft and figure out how to get people what they want.” See, the problem with that is that there’s no competition. There’s no way for me to learn.

So I think that’s the third kind of bullet point is that social planners do not know what the next invention is in five years that we need to be working on now. The only way Apple knows that is because they’re in the mix right now and they’re trying to figure that out. So it’s about knowledge being decentralized. Socialism is very centralized.

And then I think the last is benevolence. Socialism requires not only that we overcome the self-interest problem, the incentive problem and the knowledge problem, but we’re going to give these social planners all this power and say, “You do this, you do this, you do this. I’m an organized society. We’re going to create prices. We’re going to think of all the things because we’re really smart. And then we’re going to use all that power wisely and we’re going to be benevolent.” This never happens.

Again, what I said before, socialism is always connected to totalitarianism, because if you’re going to give somebody that much power, there’s no way for them not to use that power to their own benefit. So those I think are the major bullet points why socialism does not work en masse.

Now, we can have small, little… We live in families. Those are kind of socialistic, right? I don’t make my kids pay for their cereal. But it works because I can plan for them, even though not perfectly, and I love them. That’s why families work. I love them and I care about them deeply in their long term. The socialist planner can’t love all of us even if they wanted to. So those are the real character flaws of socialism.

How do you think about the conflicting Christian values, equality and freedom?

Anne Bradley:

It’s easy for people, as you said, to understand the values of freedom. I think that this idea of the value of equality is a little bit trickier. What is the value of equality? Again, if you asked Bernie Sanders, or even if you asked a kind of progressive evangelical, they would put that in material terms. They would say, “Well, equality is about material equality.” I think that is not a biblical understanding. If you read the Bible front to back, we’re never promised material equality. I don’t think that’s the Christian or biblical understanding of that term.

I think equality is we are equally loved by God and we bear these equal characteristics in our creation. That’s a very different conception. We are equal in dignity is how I would put that. We have equal dignity. Why? Because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, but we are different. Equality is not even a possibility. We look different. We think differently. We have different skills and talent. Equality is actually contrary to our created image. We are created different. We’re not created equal, but we’re equal in dignity.

Is wealth concentration in capitalism evidence of exploitation?

Anne Bradley:

I really wanted to come at this idea of inequality, again, from a Christian perspective. But also kind of to help people walk through, should we even do anything about this? I mean, that’s an open question. So I wanted to try to address that. And what we’re talking about here in this chapter is income inequality, we’re not talking about inequality of dignity or something like that, because I’ve just made the case that if you believe scripture we’re equal in dignity. So that’s our starting point here.

So the question is if we’re equal in dignity and we live in a society where people earn different amounts of money, is that a problem? What does it mean? And the answer is always as any good economist would say, it depends. So if we live in a market based society with free enterprise and economic freedom, how do people earn their money? They earn it because customers give it to them. The only reason that Steve Jobs died a very wealthy man is because lots of people wanted to have Apple products. There was no coercion. He had to compete with Michael Dell and Bill Gates and all these other people to get that position. And so the good thing for consumers is I’m not forced to buy my iPhone, I can buy a Samsung or something else. And so this is what we wanted to really dig into was is the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, that they have a massive amount of income compared to me, is that problem? Not in a society where he earns it because customers are buying their products.

Now, income inequality can be a problem, and I try to address that in the chapter, when it’s not earned income, when we’re using the state, when we’re using corruption, when we’re using bribery, when we’re using oppression to try to extract income from other people. So it’s a sophisticated level of nuance we have to have here. And then I kind of talk through how we measure it and all that type of thing. But I think the answer is it depends. But the best chance you have for income inequality to not be a problem is in a society where the rich only get rich because customers want and like what they’re doing.

What is the Gini Index?

Anne Bradley:

When we look as economists at income inequality, we try to measure… This is a very hard thing to get accurate measurements of, but we do the best we can. So we use something called the Gini Index, and this really is taking a certain population… So the Gini Index, the number you get, is going to depend on your sample size. We could do the Gini Index for my neighborhood. We could do it for the whole United States. And we typically are comparing country to country scores. So what we do is we look at tax returns and we say, what is the statistical holdings of income over people? And the way the Gini Index works is it ranges from zero to one.

So a Gini score of one is a score of perfect income inequality. It quite literally means one person has all the income. Everybody else has nothing, okay? We can say, “I don’t want to live in that world.” A Gini score of zero is perfect income equality. Everybody has the exact same income. Maybe we all earn $50,000 a year or whatever. The question is should we be trying to get closer to zero? Zero sounds more fair, right? Everybody has the same. And so when we… As economists, we measure this. Again, I said we used tax returns, is a very kind of complicated method to get to this number. I would say that this score doesn’t tell us very much of what we actually want to know.

And just to give you an example, the Gini in the US is around 0.45. Okay. So we’re almost dead center. Is that good? Is it bad? It’s hard to tell, right? What would it look like if the United States had a 0.3 score, which is closer to a Sweden? What would it look like if the United States had a score of 0.6? So there’s a range over which we have a lot of gray. We don’t really know. And again, I think what I would go back to here is that the Gini Index doesn’t help us understand how people earn their income. Did they earn it by serving their customers? Or did they earn it by engaging in crony type of activities that give them favors? And so that’s really a much more nuanced level of analysis we have to apply when we’re looking at this.

Can equality of result be “evil”?

Anne Bradley:

So I think what you’re asking there is when we want equal outcomes. It’s going back to can we manufacture a society in which we all have equal outcomes? Let me just give a little meat to that. What would that look like? Well, we all have the same income and we all have a house and we all have a car and we all get at four years of education. Whatever that equality of outcome is, if that’s what the question is, I think it may not have evil intentions for some who advocate for it. I think it has evil results. And here’s why. Go all the way back to Genesis. We’re created in the image of God. We’re unique. We’re different. It’s our differences that allow us to flourish. So trying to rectify our differences by making us all equal is destructive to our humanity.

It means that we will be poor, that we will die early, often and young. So I think a lot of people come to this equality of result, income redistribution. Let’s give everybody a car. This is what Hugo Chavez was doing in Venezuela. Everybody gets a car, everybody gets an apartment. It sounds good. It sounds like we’re going to be equal. We’re going to have the same stuff. But the first question is, how do you pay for that? But the second question is, we want people to use their unique sets of gifts and skills and talents to be creative. That’s the agency God has given us. Be creative. And if people are the same, if we strip them of their differences, they can’t do that. If we’re all actually equal, there’s nothing we can trade for. Nothing. And so I think the outcomes of that are very evil. They destroy people.

Does democratic capitalism have goals?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t know that there are specific goals to democratic capitalism. I think there’s broad goals to democratic capitalism.

What do we mean when we say that? We mean, we don’t actually know what’s going to come next. Let’s take each word at a time. Democracy means representation. People have agency. I elect my political representative to enforce the rules that I already agreed to, that are part of this. Democracy means that there’s political representation, which is a ward against tyranny and oppression. Capitalism means private decentralized people decide how they’re going to make their investments. We have no idea what’s going to come next.

Living in a world of freedom means there’s a lot of predictability in the rules of the place, but it means there’s a lot of unpredictability in terms of knowing where the world is going to go. We don’t know what the next invention’s going to be. We don’t know what life is going to look like in 20 years. That’s exciting. It’s exciting to not know. It’s exciting to have people have the right incentives to be coming up with the next big ideas.

I think those are the broad goals of democratic capitalism, but the goals are not specific, other than protecting the rule of law, protecting people in their relationship against predation by the state, and protecting markets, allowing markets to bloom.

How do you think about social justice?

Anne Bradley:

Social justice, this is another one of those terms that I think has a lot of different meanings. So I think what I will say is my understanding is what I observe from people who claim to be advocates of social justice. I mean, first, let’s say I’m not anti-justice. But, what does justice this mean from a biblical perspective? It means getting what you deserve. I’m not sure we all want justice all the time. I think social justice is a conception that’s more broadly trying to articulate what are our social responsibilities for people who are excluded, left behind, marginalized, exploited.

That said, I think that there’s really important things that people in the social justice movement are talking about. There are people alive today who are permanently exploited and are poor as a result of it and we need to think about what it’s going to take to get them out of that situation. Where I might disagree with some of my social justice temporaries, if you will, is the means by which we do that. In many cases, social justice pioneers and advocates really want redistribution. It’s what we talked about before. Do they think that the best way to care for the poor is to just redistribute wealth?

Because the notion there is that Bill Gates by being rich is taking away from poor people. Okay. So it’s a zero sum game. In economics, that’s how we would talk about it. It means I only win if I take from you. So whatever I gain is lost from you. That’s not the world of free enterprise. In fact, the world of free enterprise is Bill Gates only gets rich if we buy his stuff. And so his stuff needs to be what we want at the price we can afford to pay at high levels of quality. And so I think the social justice narrative around the solution for poverty and oppression and exploitation, which are real issues that we need to concern ourselves with as Christians.

I think that’s where I would disagree with them is what is the best means? I think the best means are markets. I think that’s what liberates us.

How do we follow Jesus to cure poverty worldwide?

Anne Bradley:

How do we cure poverty worldwide? I love this question. I would say first, we are curing it. It’s not a how to, in the sense that we don’t know what, we’re starting from zero. These numbers are kind of spit-balling here, but in 1990, about 45% of the population on the planet, lived in abject poverty, and we define that today as living under $1.90 a day, 45%, 1990. Not that long ago.

Today, it’s under 10%, under a billion people. While that rapid, run, escape from poverty has happened, population is going up, not down, so that’s phenomenal, right? The population is growing and we’re all getting richer so I think we are escaping poverty. We are curing poverty and what’s happening? Well, it’s people being included in market trade, right? It’s people being able to have agency over their choices. And then when they get just a little bit of that agency, it’s like a thousand flowers bloom and it’s an amazing thing to watch.

I mentioned earlier that when we see in developing economies, when the poor, the extreme poor, get a little bit of an increase in their income, it goes directly to technology. Because imagine being poor, again living in a village that’s remote and unconnected from the world, and now having a cell phone. What we’re seeing is that, this is a great entrepreneurial opportunity, in particular, for women. Women will save up and buy these cell phones. They’ll go to the middle of their village and they’ll sell minutes, because not everybody can afford the cell phone. And imagine what it’s like, if you’re living in grinding poverty and you have to take your child to the doctor. It’s not like the world we live in where my doctor texts me to make sure I’m going to show up on time for my appointment. No, you have to walk, could be four miles away and sometimes the doctor’s sick. So you walk four miles with your kids in tow, who are sick and the doctor’s not there to help you. Imagine the time savings that phone gives you. It’s profound.

And so I think that technology age that we live in is really hastening the pace of this escape from poverty, and so I really am just so optimistic about the future. So it’s not, how do we cure poverty? It’s let’s keep curing poverty by letting people participate in market trade.

How important are “commanding heights” versus “little people” in an economy?

Anne Bradley:

It’s all about the little people all the time. Even if I think of very Western wealthy examples, I mean, Bill Gates certainly wasn’t poor when he was tinkering around in his parents’ garage. But he had a little bit of leftover time and he put his creativity to use, and that’s what we need to empower ordinary people to do. I like to think of us all as most of us are ordinary people. So it’s about being able to tinker, being able to have entrepreneurship or the chance at entrepreneurship. And to me, it’s all about the little people.

You and I are the little people, right? I mean, it’s about not figuring out who’s going to run the steel mills and putting someone in charge of that. It’s actually about in the steel industry, what are the little tweaks and adjustments we can make? That often happens at the ground level from little firms who then grow in maybe to big firms. But I think entrepreneurship is always local. So we need to think about, what does it take for people to be empowered, to have just little entrepreneurial opportunities that can grow into bigger ones?

Are we better off living according to God’s word?

Anne Bradley:

I think the way to look at this question is to say, when we are obedient to what God has, to who he’s created us to be and how he wants us to live and act, and there’s broad principles there, but this is also highly personal, right? How he wants you to live and how he wants me to live. He’s going to ask us to do different things. The basic principles of course are always the same. When we are obedient to him, we are going to experience less frustration. When we disobey him, when we live against who we’re created to be, there’s going to be lots of frustration. So it’s the fulfillment, frustration divide. Now we can be fulfilled and still have tough stuff that’s thrown at us. So it’s not the prosperity gospel. It’s not that if you do what you think God is telling you to do you’re going to have a mansion and you never have any worries again.

No, Job promises us, right? We learn from that trial, trial, trial, trial. That’s the world we’re in. Our faith is always going to be tested because the world is against Christianity. And so I think it’s never without trial, but it always is fulfilling if you’re doing what God is asking you to do. It’s a hard thing to do. I think sometimes it’s a hard thing to know. What does he want me to do right now? How do I know that with clarity? It takes a lot of prayer and I think dedication to being Christ centered. So this is a hard thing, but I think you can be challenged and under siege and fulfilled. So I don’t think it’s this, you’re going to be rich or you’re not going to have any problems or all the stuff is going to go away like you said. Isn’t it just easier when we obey? I think it is easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but we’re fulfilled.

Are we living in a post-Christian world today?

Anne Bradley:

I’m not sure what we mean when we say a post-Christian world, do we mean a Christian culture, which I think is what a lot of people are dealing with? I mean, we’re certainly not talking about a theocracy formally, but you can see when people start to have that debate, you have to ask the question, what does it mean to have a Christian world if we’re in a post-Christian world? And I would go back to Novak here and say we’re not advocating for a theocracy. What we’re advocating for is for this culture of Christian principles to be free to bloom. Christianity fundamentally is not about coercion, so that’s not what we’re advocating. But to answer this question you have to say, well, for the people that are worried about being in a post-Christian world, what are we losing? What do we have before that we’re losing?

And I think some of the answer to that is an increasingly secularized culture where Christianity is under attack. I think there’s some of that. The world is always going to attack Christianity. The question is, are the commanding heights doing it? Is the state doing it? Is it hard for Christians to live out their faith in ways that they want to? And I think that’s where there’s some cause for concern. So we’re starting to really think about dedicating some research to this idea of religious freedom. And what does that mean to have religious freedom? Can you take your ideas into the workplace?

Let’s just use an easy example. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday. That’s a religious belief that’s being brought right into a business practice. They’re saying, “We want to go to church. We want to observe the Sabbath.” In my opinion as a Christian and as an economist by the way, they should be free to make that choice. But it is possible to imagine a world where the state says, “Well, that’s living out your Christianity and oppressing people because you’re not giving them the option for a chicken sandwich on Sunday afternoon.” So that’s where I think some of this conversation has very real concerns that we need to take into consideration, what is the limit? What limits can the state put on so-called businesses to live out their faith?

And I think when you look at it deeply, we’re always living out our faith. And so I worry a little bit about this. I don’t know if that is an okay answer, sorry.

What’s your approach as a parent when facing hostility to Christianity?

Anne Bradley:

Yeah. As a parent, this assault on truth. I’m going to answer it two ways, if it’s okay, as a parent but also as a professor. It’s just astounding the thought control. I think, and the desire to limit a dialogue. I mean, if we’re going to get to truth, we’re going to have to dialogue. This is exactly just to keep going back to Novak. This is what he was talking about, a culture in which we can ask real questions and you’re not shot down for asking the question, and this is the world we live in today. And as a mom, this is terrifying. I send my children to private school, very blessed that we can do that, it’s Christian private school. I have many friends who are homeschooling their children as a way to get around this. And what makes me sad is that it’s very hard to send your kid to private school.

It’s very hard to homeschool because it’s hard to compete with free. So all these resources at the local level are dedicated to these public schools. And so private schools have a hard time competing and think about parents who are making the sacrificial choice to homeschool. They’re giving up… In many cases, one parent’s not working because that’s your full-time job so it’s a very expensive thing to do. But I don’t want my children to be exposed to someone else’s perception of truth in a dogmatic way, that they are not permitted to question. And I think by the way, this is possible in the private schools too, right? So you’re never away from it. I think what we have to do with our children is teach them to seek truth that’s grounded in scripture. As a professor, I’ll just say really quickly, it’s terrifying what’s going on in college classrooms.

I have a part of my syllabus now that explicitly is addressed to academic freedom. And in that paragraph, I talk about how we are going to question our beliefs to their core. And that’s what it means to seek truth and that’s what it means to be a learner. And if you’re offended because you hear an idea, but you’re not willing to investigate whether that idea is true or not, you’re never going to learn. So I think there’s a real reason to be concerned about the culture.

How did postmodernism gain so much social influence?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t know how we got here. I think the problem with this “everybody has a truth” business, is that now you can’t say something is incorrect. Let’s just take something benign, which I don’t actually think is benign at all, but property rights. Most people who live in a country like the United States agree that property rights really sacred and important. But then when you start to push on the edges of that, it’s not so clear that people think that. I mean, let’s just think of something silly. Do I have a right to tell you that you can’t put a swing set up in your backyard or that you should or should not have a fence or that you can or cannot have a pool? Or what can you do on your property? I mean, these are questions of property rights. I’m not sure when we shifted to everybody gets to tell you that, because that seems to be the culture that we’re in now, which is my neighbors can tell me what to do with my property. And then we can have injunctions through HOA boards and that percolates all the way up to the top. I’m not sure what the cultural shift is that got us there.

Maybe one aspect of it is we live in a digital age that’s very transparent, so it’s easy for me to see what other people are doing. And 50 years ago, maybe that was kind of more difficult for me to know everything about the corporations I deal with and the neighbors I deal with. I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot to say about that because I don’t know. But I am worried about it. I think it’s something to be worried about.

Are you seeing any Christian awakening nearby?

Anne Bradley:

I think that there are important people that are really trying to reconnect some of this faith work, foundational stuff in addition to, if we … Tim Keller is one who I would say, Os Guinness, some of these guys. I think people are going, if there’s no had a lot of awakening, I think that it’s going to be on the horizon because as the culture gets more radically secularized in a sense that the people who are the secularizers, or have that agenda, are going to use the state to tell everybody else what they can and can’t do. That’s going to run up against a wall and I think you’re going to see more of this agitation, kind of a grassroots resistance to that. So that’s a good thing because this idea of liberty is a vulnerable one. We have to fight for it. If we don’t get that awakening, we’re going to need it soon, because I think the forces that want to really use the state to tell us, “You have to do what we tell you to do and if that includes selling chicken sandwiches on Sunday, because we want them sold, you’re going to do it,” I think that’s going to take resistance. Vocal resistance.

What can Christians learn from growth in Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America?

Anne Bradley:

I think what we can learn is that reform is always possible. There’s no hopeless. You can take an economy that… Look at China. For its whole… Well, that’s not true. But for a long time, it was very poor, run by communists. Hadn’t experienced an industrial revolution then what happens in 1978, little reforms. Not welcome capitalism, but little land reforms, little mobility reforms and just is blossoming. Now there’s a lot of work to do, but I think it’s a very encouraging thing what we see.

If you look at China and India alone, by the way, and you’re looking at the global poverty numbers, China alone accounts for 800 million people escaping poverty since 1978. So if you look at all the data, China and India are doing a lot of the work, so it’s profound. I mean, together they what, 2.6 billion people. That’s a lot of people that can escape poverty when we get things right. So, I would look and say, it’s possible and it doesn’t take as long as it used to. This reform happens in much quicker than it did before.

Should America have a balanced budget?

Anne Bradley:

I would say, to answer the question of, whether governments should balance their budgets? We should, there’s no macroeconomics without microeconomics, so let’s go to the microeconomic principles here. Your family doesn’t do itself any good services or any good when it runs always in debt. And there’s some debt that’s good debt, a lot of us have mortgages on our homes, that’s responsible debt, but you don’t want to take a mortgage that you can’t afford either. So I think the principles of prudent stewardship that apply to our family lives have to apply to our businesses and our governments. And when we lose sight of that, and here’s the problem with the government, that’s different than the family. There’s a limit to how much credit Citibank’s going to give me, right? And if I stop paying my bills and I’m always running over the limit and all these kind of stuff, they’re going to stop doing business with me because I cost them a lot of money, and maybe I don’t pay my bills.

And the same is true for the US government. If we are always going to be in debt, that debt has to be paid for. So the problem that I have with this from a moral perspective is that currently we are financing everything we do by putting a financial burden on people who are not even born yet. So they have no say. We are loading up that burden on people asking them, that is theft in my opinion. Is a very dangerous thing and it’s a very vicious cycle and Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of this. In terms of the federal budget, we have a lot of problems and this is why, we can all talk about balancing the budget, and that’s all fine and good. I don’t think that’s enough. I think we need to have a fundamental question about what spending can we stop engaging in, because we spend more than we can afford as a government.

And if we don’t stop that, the bottom will fall out. And that’s going to have international implications, right? The soundness of the dollar is one of the best things we have going for us. It makes the dollar a very attractive currency, but if we start spiraling out of control in our debt, that’s going to affect the value of the dollar and everything else. So I think we have to tread with caution here. And I think we need to get back to principles, which is we spend too much, both parties spend too much, so it’s a fundamental reform in the institution of government. This is a hard thing to come by. Nobody wants to give up their spending, right? So it’s hard.

What is America’s role in the world?

Anne Bradley:

My answer to that question is probably a lot different than other people’s question. I think our role is to trade with people. I think our role is to open our borders to goods and services from anywhere that it’s effective to get them because that makes not only us better off, but it makes everybody else better off. To me, this is so clearly a biblical principle. We’re called to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, right? The forgotten.

How do we help the people in China that still live in poverty? How do we help the people that live in Ghana? How do we help the people that live in Venezuela? We find ways to trade with them. And I think that this is the best because globally, people look to the United States government for what to do. So if we can be a leader in opening up our policies of trade and exchange, other people will follow.

I have to say, the news here has generally been good over the last 40 years. Lots of trades barriers have been reduced. I do not think, maybe I can answer the question also by saying what I don’t think, I do not think the US should take an imperialistic we need to intervene everywhere and make the world safer democracy in the Wilsonian sense of that. I think we’ve tried to do that before. I think it’s very expensive. I think it doesn’t work.

I think if we want other places to have democratic freedoms, they need to have free trade freedoms first. Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek wrote a lot about this, the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom. And the idea is that economic freedom is necessary for us to get political freedom and political reform. So what can the US do? Trade, promote economic freedom. I think it’s that easy, it’s also that hard.

What are your thoughts on immigration?

Anne Bradley:

Yes. Also, a topic that I like to discuss, but I think I have an unpopular opinion, which is that I think when you’re talking about trade policy, over goods and services, it’s very easy for people to understand that we shouldn’t grow our own bananas. Right? Mexico grows bananas. They have a better climate. We don’t grow any kiwifruit. We get those from New Zealand and other places. It’s very easy for people to accept that, okay, we should give New Zealanders money. They’ll give us the kiwi. We’re both better off. But I think a free trade conversation also needs to incorporate an immigration conversation, because what is immigration? It’s the trade of labor. If we’re so easily willing to accept kiwi, why aren’t we also willing to accept labor? Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vet that somehow, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we make it very hard for people to come here who want to come here.

If you look at the economic data over this, what we see is that immigrants, especially in a country like the United States, perform jobs that are very expensive to get American counterparts to perform. I really dislike this trope that says they’re stealing our jobs. I don’t like that phrase at all for a couple of reasons. One, you don’t have a right to a job. Nobody’s really stealing it from you. I mean, that implies that some El Salvadorian woman comes over with her family and a gun and holds it to somebody’s head and says, “Fire the American, hire me.” It doesn’t work that way. Right? Why are jobs shifted? It’s because of the labor. And so I think immigration is good, both for the people who are coming, but the people who live there. We used to be much more open about our immigration policies as a country, and I think we thrived because of it. I think we would do ourselves some good to go back to some of that.

Are you optimistic of pessimistic about the United States?

Anne Bradley:

Here’s what I would say. The United States is a great place to live. I mean, I live here. I could live a lot of other places, I suppose. It’s a great place. Lots of economic freedom. But we’re slipping.

If you look at the data that we collected on this, in 2000, the United States was ranked number two in the world for economic freedom. Today we’re about 16 or 17, depending on the index. We’ve dropped about a rank every year. The question is, what’s driving that? Where are we going? I don’t think the trend looks that great.

Here’s what I’m worried about for the United States. Excessive levels of regulation. It’s becoming harder and harder to be an entrepreneur. We’re regulating business operations so much that it costs business owners a great deal to just open and maintain compliance. This disproportionately affects the poor, which I’m worried about. I’m worried about something that we call occupational licensing. It’s getting very hard to open a business without having a license.

An example of this is hair braiding. The Institute for Justice took up the cause of hair braiders because this is disproportionately affecting African American women who are hair braiding in the basement of their homes and able to have a little business. The salons have come in and said, “You need to have 2,500 hours of cosmetology school,” which basically excludes them from the market. We have to stop this. Talk about income inequality. This is the worst type of income inequality, because it’s the rich trying to protect their privileged position and they’re using the state to do it.

I’m really worried about regulations in the United States, because if we keep going at our clip and we don’t stop spending, there will be a wall we hit where there’s economic decline, lots of unemployment. What’s going to happen then? I mean, how are we going to get ourselves out of it? Like I said before, I don’t think there’s ever a reason to be hopeless. America has historically been the best place in the world to be for a lot of reasons; good government, good institutions, good economy. But we have to fight to keep that. I think we could get our edge back if we just reform ourselves along some of those margins.

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Overview

Anne R. Bradley

Dr. Anne Bradley is the George and Sally Mayer Fellow for Economic Education and Vice President of Academic Affairs at The Fund for American Studies. Born and raised in Alexandria, VA, Dr. Bradley graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Economics from James Madison University. After several years out of academia, she returned to George Mason University, where she earned both her M.S. (2002) and her Ph.D. (2006) in Economics. She was interviewed as the co-editor of the outstanding book Counting the Cost: Christian Perspectives on Capitalism (2017)—to some extent an update and translation on Michael Novak’s The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982).
Transcript

Professional Background

Anne Bradley:

My educational background begins at James Madison University, which is where I did my undergraduate work. It’s a middle size state school in Virginia. When I went there, I decided I wanted to study economics. I started doing that right off the bat and took a few years off after undergrad, but was pretty convinced I wanted to be an academic and a professor. When I was ready, I entered George Mason University and did my combined PhD and Master’s Program there.

From there, interesting story, when I was in graduate school, 9/11 happened. I started working with one of my mentor professors on writing about terrorism from an economic point of view. This was his idea, not mine, but I said, sure, let’s do this. I became really enthralled with how economics could help us understand something that seemed so impossible to understand.

I did my dissertation on the economics of Al-Qaeda when I was at George Mason. Right after graduate school, I went to the CIA and I worked as an analyst. I was working in tariff finance so we were trying to figure out the movement of resources and dollars amongst tariff groups. I did that for a couple of years, then went back into the nonprofit and teaching sector. I work at the Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics. Where we commission research towards a biblical understanding of human flourishing and economic freedom. I also do some teaching at Grove City College. I teach at George Mason with the fund for American studies, and I teach at a small graduate program in DC called the Institute for World Politics. I get the best of both worlds and that I get to do some research and I also get to be in the classroom.

Any comments about your personal life?

Anne Bradley:

Interesting. I live in Northern Virginia, right outside of DC, and I’m actually a Northern Virginia native. I was born in Alexandria, and we’ve just migrated to the West, so we can still afford to live here. I have two brothers. I’m the oldest. Our parents have moved out here, so they can be near my husband and my children. We love Virginia. We love living in Loudoun County. I have a husband, I think we’ve been married for almost 13 years now, so that’s exciting. We have two small children, an eight-year old boy named Parker and a four-year old girl named Bailey. It’s just a joy to be raising children. I think family life is one of my biggest joys and that really defines your hobbies and your interests at this stage, but I love that.

What people or events have shaped who you are?

Anne Bradley:

So who I am today I think there’s a lot of stories I could tell there, but I’m going to tell just a few, starting with how I was raised. I was raised in a Christian home, and as I mentioned, I have two brothers. So I’m the only girl and I’m the oldest. And I remember growing up and I wasn’t… I ran cross country and track, but I did it to please my dad because he was a track runner. He never tried to force me to do it, but I just wanted to do it for him. And I was really the worst person on the team. So, I was never a big athlete. I did it because I wanted to, but I was never going to be great. So my dad and I didn’t bond over sports in the same way that fathers and sons bond.

But growing up right outside of Washington, D.C., my dad loved to watch these Sunday afternoon political talk shows, which I find funny now because I do not like to watch them at all. But growing up, he would turn those on after church if it wasn’t football season. And I would watch those shows with him, and we would talk about politics, we talk about ideas. And that’s the way that I bonded with my father.

So fast forward to when I was in high school, I got this really interesting letter in the mail and it was an offer to go with a bunch of high school students from different high schools. So it would be people I didn’t know, to go to five different countries over the summer. It was through an organization called People to People. And I got this. This was just probably a mass letter that everybody got. And I went to my parents and I said, “I have to do this.” And I remember it was like $3,500. And they said, “Okay, well, if you do this, then we can’t help you get a car. So you have to choose, do you want to go on this trip or do you want to get a car?” And this is maybe my only point of wisdom as a 16 year old, but I said, “I want the trip.” And that trip, I look back on it now and it was life changing in a way that I did not know it at the time.

We went to five countries, one of which was the Soviet Union. So when I landed in the Soviet Union and I saw what it was like to be escorted around Moscow, to be not allowed to go where you’re not officially allowed to go, and to be told that if you trade, the Russians are going to want to trade, they’re going to know you’re an American because of the jeans and the shoes and the jackets that you’re wearing, and if you trade on the so-called black market, you’re going to be thrown in a Russian prison. I mean, this was terrifying to me. I didn’t understand it. I was a young kid. And I remember being so happy to be home after that, but being profoundly changed by that experience in ways that I couldn’t articulate when I was young.

So, honestly I think that was a huge experience for me in young adulthood that led me to become an economist. And that led me to be somebody who wants to think about my Christian faith and how that’s connected to my deep desire to advocate for free and flourishing society. Because I think I got to see at an impressionable age what it’s like to not have any freedom and to live under the threat of oppression. So, I think those are big moments that shaped who I am today.

What do you care about most professionally?

Anne Bradley:

I professionally am interested in advocating for a free society. And what that means, I think for me as an economist, is trying to make the ideas of economics and what I would like to call the economic way of thinking, that’s not my phrase but I think it’s an important one, accessible to all of us, because I really think that we’re all after the same things, especially people who call themselves Christians. I think we want to do what we believe God put us here to do. We want to find our purpose. We want to be fulfilled in the pursuit of that purpose, but that is not just about us.

So there’s one aspect of that that’s very personal, theological. Then there’s another aspect that begs the question what type of society must we live in if we are to be free to live into our purpose, to do what God created us to do? So that’s really my passion and I do it by being in the classroom, by talking as much as I can about the ideas of economics and really grounding them in biblical principles, because I think there’s no questioning that. For Christians, it’s what does the Bible say? We believe that it’s the truth and what are the principles that inform how we live today? That I think professionally is my biggest passion.

More broadly than that, my family life I think is part of that. For me, it’s not just being an economist, it’s being a wife, it’s being a mother. It’s being part of my community and my church and there’s great joys in all of that. And that is all very connected for all of us.

What is the Institute of Faith Works & Economics mission?

Anne Bradley:

The work of the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics, we are an organization that started in about 2011. And really what we’re trying to do is start with biblical truth. What does it say in scripture about who we are? What are we doing here? I always say to people, what does Genesis have to do with life in the 21st century? And that’s what we want to do because we want to reconnect people with the truths of scripture and help them understand how to live that out.

So really what we’re not trying to do is be policy advocates. We’re not trying to tell people what to think the next tax policy, but we’re trying to give people principles that allow them to come to their own conclusions about that. And I think there’s real power in that.

So part of the initiation of our Institute was the real observation over the past 150 years of this kind of sacred secular divide that has permeated Christian thinking, which is that God cares about what I do on Sunday. He cares about whether I’m reading my Bible, whether I’m going on a mission trip, whether I’m tithing, but what if I’m an accountant, or a janitor, or an economist who cares? That’s just so I can tithe, that’s just so I can take care of my family. That’s a real dangerous disconnect because God… If you’re supposed to be an accountant, that means God created you to be an accountant. And that means that being an accountant has value; intrinsic value.

So we really want to reconnect and we start with scripture and then go all the way towards, what does it mean to advocate for a free society so that people can do that?

What is your and IFWE’s worldview?

Anne Bradley:

IFWE’s conception of worldview absolutely starts with Genesis and I think there are a couple of basic principles that would inform that broader worldview. One is that we are created in the image and likeness of God. And if you buy that, there’s very profound implications for each of us as people, which means that we’re here for a reason. But more than that, that you were created in a specific way to do specific things, and there’s never been another you.

So what you’re doing is important. So really what we’re about is stewardship. Every minute matters. God has given you this combination of skills and talents and intellect in your filter of the world, your observation of the world and with all those things, you’re supposed to do something unique.

And when you do that, you are part of reweaving Shalom. Shalom, not just meaning peace, that’s how we often translate Shalom, we mean God’s redemptive work in the world. So really bringing things back as close as possible to the way they were supposed to be. Perfect Shalom won’t be achieved until God returns. So that’s really what we’re about and that we each have agency in that, we each have a role to play and that our work today has eternal significance. And we don’t know what that looks like, but we know it’s true.

How would you group “atheists” in America?

Anne Bradley:

Most of my interaction is, I’m asked to go interact on Christian college campuses. I would say in some ways my exposure to atheists on the ground in terms of actually interacting is limited. Now just because you’re on a Christian campus, doesn’t mean there’s not atheists there, but I think that there’s a couple categories that I can talk about just in terms of observing the conversations that people are having more broadly outside of the classroom perhaps. I think one is just this idea of, as you mentioned, materialism, which is that there’s no agency that’s divine. The thing that I started with before we’re Imago Dei, created in the image of God. If that’s true, then there’s profound implications for the value of the human person, which in a weird way is anti-materialist, right, because material stuff can fade away.

The non-material stuff for a Christian is important. Maybe it’s the most important thing, but I think when you go down the path of atheism that’s profoundly obsessed, I would say, with materialism, then that’s all the human person is about. That gets us into these weird policy conversations, which have to do with income redistribution, right? Because a person’s worth is only revealed perhaps by their income, because your status doesn’t, or your value, there’s no dignity. I think that’s one aspect of it.

I think another aspect of it is really just a postmodern claim that truth is inherently relative. There is no truth. We talk about it now, people say, “I’m going to speak my truth,” and this is a phrase that drives me crazy because there is no my truth. There is the truth, and so I think postmodern atheism is really butting up against that and trying to make the claim that your truth is your truth, my truth is my truth, and what that means is that anything goes, there’s no rules.

Describe some of the issues that arise today between Christians and atheists.

Anne Bradley:

The question is, how do we come into a society and live amongst each other, if we’re all self-interested, which is a principle of economics, but an observation of people when there’s no doing anything wrong? When anything goes, it’s very hard to live amongst each other that way.

I think these are the strains that I find very dangerous. Here’s why. They’re very attractive to perhaps the next generation, because it sounds good to create your own rules. It almost sounds like tempting to say, “I’m a Christian, but if I could just kind of soften some of these rules, then I could have my version of Christianity.” I think the problem is atheism doesn’t just stay in atheism and Christian stay in Christianity. That’s not what God wanted. He wants us to be salt and light and interact. But what we have to do is be careful that we’re not adopting these ideas of postmodernism and atheism and incorporating them into a softer Christianity that kind of just lets us do what we want.

These are some of the, I think, the biggest concerns that I have that could be the most damaging.

What trends in Christianity do you see now?

Anne Bradley:

I think the biggest trend that we’re seeing is people are walking away from church attendance. So I’m going to tie that data point back to your question, which is that, it may go back to, “I want to do things the way I want to do it.” So the problem with a fractionalized church is that you have a church and then you have maybe a group of people in the church that don’t like the direction of the church. We might say, that’s a good thing especially if the church is doing something that’s unbiblical. And then what do they do? They start a new denomination, or they start a new version. I’m a Presbyterian. This is happening a lot in the Presbyterian church. So I think the problem is that people are pulling away and starting their own thing. So we see these kind of disparate groups among Christianity. And what unites them?

I mean, can we answer that question in the 21st century, maybe the same way we would answer it in 1900 at the onset of the 20th? I don’t think so. So I’m a little worried about this. And if you look at church attendance among millennials, it’s going down. And that doesn’t mean that people… we don’t want to judge. Right? Maybe they’re doing it their own way. Maybe they’re reading scripture, but it is concerning, because I think a church is a place we get discipled by others and we need to submit ourselves to that. And I think that takes some humility and some submission to what God’s asking us to do. So I’m worried a little bit about the future. Now, the digital age gives us a lot of interesting ways to kind of consume church in ways that we couldn’t 50 years ago.

So that might be a good thing. If you’re traveling, you can watch a church sermon on TV, or you can listen to a podcast from your pastor. Those are good things, but I do worry about the breaking up of that routine of coming together on Sunday. So I’m not sure what the answer to your question is, but I don’t see convergence in terms of we’re uniting around certain core principles.

I actually see the opposite, which is, when we don’t like something in a church, we just start a new denomination, instead of, what would the alternative have been 50, 70 years ago? We fix it in the church. The church doesn’t disband. It’s easier to do that now. And I think it becomes more confusing for Christians, especially people who are new Christians. “Where do I go to church? How do I even know to decipher what a Baptist church offers and a Presbyterian, Lutheran? I got all in my neighborhood. How do I know what they mean?” That’s a harder thing to know, and it’s very individual to the church. So I think that might be a concerning trend.

Do worldviews grow together or clash?

Anne Bradley:

I really like this question. I dealt with some of it when I was working on my doctoral dissertation, because I was thinking about Al-Qaeda, why then, why that group, what motivated them, what influenced them. And part of it was this clash of civilization, right? It’s the west is imposing its values. Al-Qaeda is trying to restore the caliphate. It’s a clash of ideas, a clash of identities. And that was based on… That’s one specific example of that, but I guess my broader answer to your question is it depends.

So when we look at modern global market economies, I think the most profound thing to understand about this is when we trade with Mexico, we give them dollars and they give us bananas, you’re not just trading bananas for dollars, which become pesos, in that foreign exchange. We’re trading ideas, we’re trading values, we’re trading conceptions about what it means to engage in a contract with each other. We’re exchanging ideas about the value of property rights. I mean, that’s a profound and amazing thing.

And so this is a good thing. And I think that economists talk a lot about cosmopolitanism, which is this notion that when we start engaging in trade over goods and services, and we start this engaging in trade of culture and ideas, then we actually have a really neat opportunity to evangelize ideas about property rights, about trade, about people being free, things that we would trace back to the roots of Christianity. So I don’t think just because cultures are different and they come into contact with one another, that it necessarily means there has to be a fight to the death.

But as I said, it depends. So if somebody views a culture as being imposed upon them, I suspect there will be a big fight, a turf battle, but in the global age that we’ve viewed over the last 100 years, but even more specifically, the last 50 years, we’re engaging in all sorts of cultural and idea exchange and it’s exciting. Because what we’re seeing is that more places in the world are adopting property rights. These bigger ideas of economic freedom that we think are so important, those are spreading, and we want that to happen as much as possible. So I don’t think it always has to be a clash.

Does your worldview influence your daily life?

Anne Bradley:

If you have a worldview that you believe is absolutely true, it should influence your daily life and your choices. What does that look like for me? I can tell you one, just from having small children, it influences every aspect of how I’m raising them. And it’s a very counter-cultural thing that we’re saying, which is that you can’t be anything you want to be. That is a lesson I’m teaching my kids.

This is not what the Disney Channel teaches my kids, right? It teaches them choose any… Like you’re looking at a menu of career choices and you say, “I want to be X.” “I want to be a doctor because doctors get a lot of prestige and they make a lot of money.” That doesn’t work like that.

Why do I not believe it works like that? Or why do I believe it does not work like that? Because God created us in a very unique and specific way. So I think that’s one way that it influences daily decisions, which is how am I raising my kids. I’m raising them to believe that God created them for something specific. And the best way to live a fulfilling is to live into that and not listen to what the culture tells you, which is get the biggest number of zeros on your paycheck, or be as famous as you can be. Because when you try to do something that’s counter to how God created you’re going to be frustrated. And I’ve experienced this in my own life.

In fact, my time at the CIA, which is what everybody gets excited about on my bio, I was miserable. It was not the right job for me, based on my skills. You know I don’t regret it, but it wasn’t the place for me to be long term. And so I want my children to think about that.

I also want my children to believe that they have a responsibility on this earth. Nobody owes them anything just because they’re here. And I think that is of my economic way of thinking and my biblical way of thinking, which is that people have great capacities to serve their neighbors and to love each other and to create great wealth, but we need the right setting to do that. And so I want my children to advocate for that in their future lives.

What are some of Christianity’s key presuppositions?

Anne Bradley:

The presuppositions that we take and what’s neat about IFWE is that we’re theologians and economists coming together to try to be interdisciplinary and create this framework in which people can think through who they are and what they’re supposed to do, or how they’re supposed to think about the world. What we start with is anthropology. Meaning, who are we? It’s one thing to say we’re made in God’s image. We understand that, but what does it mean? I’m just going to list a few things that it means.

It means that we are not actually God. He can create something out of nothing. We can’t do that. We live in a world of scarcity. We can create something out of something and we are called to do that. That’s one important point.

I think the other important point is we have purpose. We’re not wind-up robots that you set off. Nobody winds us up in the day. We have a filter by which we try to assess what’s good for me. We call this self-interest. Now, self-interest is different than greed, but we do say that everybody is self-interested, meaning they try to do what they think is best for them and they try to do it at the lowest possible cost.

Then the other thing is just that we’re limited. We can’t do everything on our own. Part of our anthropology is that we’re social. You see us in the image of God, the Trinity, a relational being. We are relational beings. We’re going to require a society that encourages community and relationships.

I think those are really important foundational aspects of our narrative, our framework, and our thinking about how do we talk to Christians in the 21st century about freedom and flourishing. Well, you have to start with those principles of human anthropology, because that tells you what we’re going to be capable of and what we’re incapable of. I think that’s where you have to start the conversation.

What does self-interest mean to a Christian?

Anne Bradley:

Self-interest is one of the most misunderstood concepts among everybody. I mean, my non-Christian students. It’s confusing. Because it sounds like we’re being greedy and self-interest is just the way that you choose. In fact, it’s what God created you to be self-interested what does it mean? It means you’re trying to live in to the things that benefit you. Here’s the distinction. It benefits you to make Christ the center of all your decisions, that’s in your self-interest. But that means you have to constrain yourself. You have to say no to things. You can’t indulge every whim. And so self-interest is not about unmitigated greed, it’s what’s the filter of your choices. And when Christ is the center of our self-interest, our self-interest has great benefits.

What is the Biblical narrative?

Anne Bradley:

So the story of scripture that informs how we live, I think there’s a couple things that I would try to pull out there that are important. And one is that the whole story fits together. It was written to tell a story that’s very consistent. So if you start with Genesis and you go to Revelation, you’re given everything that you need.

And I think that story is very relevant for the modern world. I think we forget that. And that’s why in our work, we really start, we hammer down on Genesis 1 and 2 because we get a lot of what we need to understand who we are. So Genesis tells us the story of our creation. It gives us meaning. We get the creation mandate in which we have our purpose. And then we see very quickly, when we were just talking about self-interest, we see what happens when our view of what’s good for us gets distorted by sin. So we’re given a choice. We’re given freedom and agency to choose.

And what happens when we choose sin? Well, the fall happens and it breaks lots of our relationships with ourself, with each other, with God and with His creation. So we’re told everything’s going to be harder. Everything’s going to be more difficult. Everything’s going to be more painful, but you still got to do it.

So the fall, I’m going to spend a lot of time, I guess on the beginning of scripture, but the fall breaks and makes it harder for us to do what we’re supposed to do, but it doesn’t undo the mandate. Be fruitful and multiply never goes away. So the rest of scripture gives us principles about that struggle of being fruitful and multiply. And we see many, many people that God chooses and they fall to all this sin. Look at David, you look at Solomon, you just see it through scripture.

You look at what Mary and Joseph are asked to do and you just think God chooses sinful people who He knows are going to mess up, who He knows are going to fall to sin, and who He knows are people who look around and say, “Why on earth would God choose me to do this?” That’s the story after story after story. And what is the lesson from all that is that we got to be ready when God calls us because He’s going to call ordinary people. Those people are going to question why they were ever asked to do anything for His purposes.

We’re all Davids. We all have these Goliaths that we’re fighting. And he’s asked us to do that and it’s about obedience to that and the blessings that come from obedience. Life is going to be more fulfilling when we do the hard things that God ask us to do. Life is hard. It’s promised that it will be hard. We learn a lot about trials in scripture.

What about Revelations, the story’s end?

Anne Bradley:

And I think at the end of the story, in Scripture that we have, is a glimpse into the future. So if we talk a lot about not so much heaven, but we talk about the new heaven and the new earth. Which is this idea that my boss, Hugh Whelchel, always says that, “Kind of the truncated view of Christianity is to say, well, I’m a sinner. I need to be saved. And so I get saved and then what happens?” Well, I have my bus ticket and I’m waiting on the bus to come, right? The bus is going to take me to heaven and that’s where we’re going to hang out on clouds. And we’re going to be with angels. You know, this version of heaven that you kind of learned in Sunday school that we need to go past.

We don’t talk about that. We talk about the new heaven and the new earth, when God restores his creation, Shalom is achieved and we get the best of all cultures, the best of all human creativity. And that’s why at, IfWe talk a lot about our work, having eternal significance. You being an accountant, me being an economist, a teacher, an engineer, a janitor, that stuff is going to be redeemed. And in the new heaven and the new earth we’re going to live and we’re going to work.

And we don’t know what that looks like. Will our families remain the same or be different? There’s a lot of questions, but I think faithfulness to what God has called us into today will be redeemed, rewarded, and glorified when God makes all things new again, and then we live for eternity. So scripture really gives us an essence of who we are, the struggle in who we are because of our sin, but in this vision towards the future, we can see, we can have an idea of what it’s going to be like to be reunited. And so that needs to inform all of our decisions about work and faith and life and family today.

Is this the dreaded imperialistic Whig interpretation of history?

Anne Bradley:

I hear a lot of these comments about the Whig interpretation of history, or we shouldn’t be imposing Western values on everybody else. This is kind of a resurgent idea in the classroom, I would say. In fact in some ways, I think you have to be careful about how you present the ideas of Adam Smith, because is it just kind of some elite guy that lived in the enlightenment who maybe was wrong and maybe, we shouldn’t follow what he said. And it’s not all Adam Smith.

But certainly what happened during the time of Adam Smith was remarkable in human history, I mean, absolutely remarkable. One of my favorite … we’re in an interview so we’re not showing graphs here. But one of my favorite graphs to look at, that I try to talk about and show to people every time I have the chance is, if you look at world income over the last 2,000 years, we call it the hockey stick graph in economics. Because world income from AD1 until about 1800 is zero. Hovers at the zero line and then shoots up. And it shoots up around the time of what we call the Industrial Revolution.

I don’t think that was inevitable. It wasn’t inevitable that we were going to get profoundly rich, and it’s not just rich people getting richer, it’s the fact that we’re sitting in a heated air conditioned room right now having a conversation, ordinary people. How do we get such luxuries as air conditioning and heating when George Washington, who was richer, more famous, more powerful, more politically connected than I will ever be, didn’t have a heater? He had a fire, right? He didn’t even … in fact when he was inaugurated, he only had one of his real teeth left in his mouth. I have all my teeth and I expect to have all my teeth for a long time.

So what is the difference? That’s not inevitable. For most of human history, most people lived at $100 or less. So it is actually shocking that changed. What is it? It’s about getting the ideas about who we are, about our position in society. What was profound about the industrial revolution is that, work was good and ordinary people had something to offer in their work. That was an idea. And it was an idea that the reformers had. It was an idea that Adam Smith and David Hume had.

So it was about a lot of people agitating for these ideas but that wasn’t enough. Those ideas had to be adopted and believed by people. And then they get incorporated into law, they get incorporated into how we view ourselves with respect to the government. Now there’s no such thing as a divine right of kings, right? I mean in this idea space. It’s that, you are just like me and you need to submit yourself to the rule of law in the same way I do. So I think why is your question important? Because it’s not inevitable, and it can reverse. We are not destined to be free and rich forever, we got to fight for that.

What is capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

Capitalism is a word that I do not like. You might say, wow, that’s kind of silly, because it’s on the front cover of your book. In fact, when we were thinking about the book, I said, oh, I don’t think we should use the word capitalism. But the whole point is, people are really starting to question capitalism again. They have, I think, forever. So, we said, okay, we’re going to deal, we’re just going to roll our sleeves up and get dirty and talk about what capitalism means. Capitalism is a term that originated, was originated by Karl Marx. It’s a derogatory term. If you know anything about Marx, he was someone who was very worried about excessive wealth accumulation. He believed work was inherently alienating. So, when I get into a commercial relationship with my employer, there’s a probability, a likelihood, that I’m going to be alienated from my work and I’m just going to, kind of, be a pawn, right? A cog in this machine.

And there’s no fulfillment in it. This is very different than the narrative that we talk about when we talk about work. And so, Karl Marx says, there’s the dirty capitalists, those are the holders of capital. That’s where this term comes into being. Capitalism as a system, what do we mean? And I want to be very clear about what the economic definition of this. The economic definition of capitalism is the private ownership of the means of production. Now what does that mean? It means that private individuals, as firms, right? Hold property rights and they make investment decisions based on their assessment of what people want and need. Meaning, the United States government doesn’t own all the farms, the United States government doesn’t own all the manufacturing plants, right? Apple is a private company and they make stuff.

How do they make those decisions? Well, they kind of try to figure out what consumers want. Sometimes they’re right, sometimes they’re wrong. So, capitalism is about that system of profit and loss. What’s profoundly important about capitalism, which Marx didn’t understand, is that it’s driven by consumers, it’s driven by you and I. See, if none of us go into Apple, the store, it’s not going to exist anymore or they’re going to have to change the way they do things, that’s the power of consumers. It’s very different than what Marx thought a capitalist system looked like. So, capitalism as a system hasn’t been around that long, it’s very much correlated with, kind of, the onset of the industrial revolution. And I would even say, there’s no system today that we can observe that’s perfectly capitalistic, right? Meaning, all individuals privately hold the means of production.

Why do you dislike the word capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

The reason I do not like the word capitalism is because it means a thousand different things to a thousand different people. So if we were to go out on the street and do a man on the spot interview and say, “What does capitalism mean?”, you would have every answer under the sun from the one I just gave, which is the economic answer to, well, it’s the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor, or it’s a lot of different things.

And so that’s why I don’t like the word, because I think when you’re saying “Let’s talk about capitalism,” immediately in your mind, there’s an image, there’s an idea, there’s a definition. And so when we talk about capitalism, we’re all starting from a different place and our biases are loaded into that. I prefer to talk about a market-based society. Where are markets allowed to operate and when are they constrained? And what’s the range over that? And that’s a socie… That’s kind of less political or less ideological. So I think the problem with the word capitalism is it insights all this anger and emotion. And then it’s hard to talk about whether it’s good or not.

What is business’ function or goal in a Christian society?

Anne Bradley:

I think there’s a broad goal that business has from a Christian perspective, which is I hear some people say, “I’m pro business.” I don’t like that either because I don’t know what it means. Does it mean you’re pro big business? Does it mean you’re pro small business? I think what business is about is service. So entrepreneurship is what we really want to talk about. What do businesses do? Well, in theory, if we’re taking the biblical point of view, and then we’re layering in the economic freedom point of view, then businesses are there to serve other people. And they only get rewarded, they only get that profit if they do what consumers want them to do, what customer want them to do.

So business isn’t good for its own sake. It’s a means to an end, right? And the means to an end is giving us things that we couldn’t do on our own. So I mentioned George Washington earlier. I mean, this poor guy had one tooth left, right? He’s a big powerful guy. Why? Because he didn’t have Listerine and toothbrushes and toothpaste and all these things that ordinary people get easy access to today. That’s because of entrepreneurship. It’s because people don’t want their teeth falling out of their head when they’re 25, right? It’s because people don’t want to die of a tooth infection that a root canal can fix when you’re 30. And so business is about serving others, and it’s, in a commercial society, the most effective way that we’ve figured out to-date to serve strangers.

Is there a disconnect between Christian churches and their congregations concerning work?

Anne Bradley:

To me, this stems back to the problem that we’ve observed in the church over I would say the last 150 years, which is this sacred secular divide. So you’ll hear your pastor talk a lot about taking the youth group on a missions trip. And this is a good thing, so I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But you’ll never hear them talk about what can the people in the congregation do who are business leaders? How do they think about running their business in a godly way? Or how do they think about their positive contributions to the community? I think part of it is that pastors are not trained in seminary to think about those things. But I think it’s more fundamentally about this: Pastors care about the sacred. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you donating enough? Are you donating your time? Are you teaching Sunday school? And they’re looking for other pastors that they can help mentor.

But then that leaves the rest of us who go to a job that’s “secular” from nine to five, where’s the counsel that we get from the church? And I think it’s just not there. I don’t think this is from bad intentions, but I think that the pastors themselves are not being equipped to think about reuniting that divide, that all work is sacred. And so what we would say at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics is that if God calls you to be a pastor, you should do that with integrity and you should listen to the call and you should be obedient. But what if God also calls someone else to be a hedge fund manager on Wall Street? Which is vilified right now in our culture.

You should also do that with integrity and excellence, and you’re not less … You don’t have less dignity. You don’t have less purpose and more important, your work isn’t less important. It’s just different. That is a radical idea if you tell that to a lot of pastors and seminarians. So I really think we need to get these ideas into the seminary, because if all work matters, then all work matters. And then pastors need to be communicating with 90% of their congregation. Most of the people who sit in the pews on Sunday morning are not pastors and they don’t work in the church. Most of them work in the world and they need to have a connection to scripture with that. And they need to be counseled on that.

 Has the Church always missed the work message?

Anne Bradley:

To me, this stems back to the problem that we’ve observed in the church over I would say the last 150 years, which is this sacred secular divide. So you’ll hear your pastor talk a lot about taking the youth group on a missions trip. And this is a good thing, so I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. But you’ll never hear them talk about what can the people in the congregation do who are business leaders? How do they think about running their business in a godly way? Or how do they think about their positive contributions to the community? I think part of it is that pastors are not trained in seminary to think about those things. But I think it’s more fundamentally about this: Pastors care about the sacred. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you donating enough? Are you donating your time? Are you teaching Sunday school? And they’re looking for other pastors that they can help mentor.

But then that leaves the rest of us who go to a job that’s “secular” from nine to five, where’s the counsel that we get from the church? And I think it’s just not there. I don’t think this is from bad intentions, but I think that the pastors themselves are not being equipped to think about reuniting that divide, that all work is sacred. And so what we would say at the Institute for Faith, Work and Economics is that if God calls you to be a pastor, you should do that with integrity and you should listen to the call and you should be obedient. But what if God also calls someone else to be a hedge fund manager on Wall Street? Which is vilified right now in our culture.

You should also do that with integrity and excellence, and you’re not less … You don’t have less dignity. You don’t have less purpose and more important, your work isn’t less important. It’s just different. That is a radical idea if you tell that to a lot of pastors and seminarians. So I really think we need to get these ideas into the seminary, because if all work matters, then all work matters. And then pastors need to be communicating with 90% of their congregation. Most of the people who sit in the pews on Sunday morning are not pastors and they don’t work in the church. Most of them work in the world and they need to have a connection to scripture with that. And they need to be counseled on that.

I don’t think it’s been a problem since the inception. If you read the reformers, if you read Calvin, for example, he talks a lot about vocation and work. And I think that there’s modern theologians that are really trying to bring these ideas back as well. Os Guinness would be one, but there are others who are really trying to say, “We need to reunite this connection,” so I think that there’s reasons to be optimistic, but we need more voices in that space. So, no, I don’t think it’s existed forever perhaps.

I do think within Christian circles though, I can’t say I didn’t live a thousand years ago, but it’s probably always been the case that the priests and the pastors have had kind of a different view. There’s a different view that we cast on them than the business guy, the lawyer, the accountant. So maybe they’ve always been held in different lights, but I really do think that if you go back and read the work of the reformers, there was a strong call to not do that. And we’ve lost that, I think, over the past 100 years or so.

As a Christian, how do you think about profits?

Anne Bradley:

Profits are great. This is my short answer to that. Profits are leftovers, so that’s what I always want people to think about when they think about the word profit. Profit means leftover. Okay. So it means what’s the residual. What’s left. And we always tend to think about profit financially. So we think about what’s leftover in our Bank of America account right at the end of the month. And that’s fine. That is part of profit. But if we are created for a purpose, and we are stewards of what God has gifted us with, then everything is for profit.

You want to profit your time. You want to profit your talent. You want to profit your money. What is profiting your time mean? It just means I have leftover hours, right? I live a longer life, so I have leftover years. Profiting my talent means I have more to give. So profit is inherently a good thing.

Now, I will say the only qualifier here is how do you obtain profit? And we can’t have that conversation without having a conversation about capitalism and free markets. And what’s the role of the state, because it’s possible in some societies for people to quote unquote “profit”, to get something, by stealing it, by taking it, by oppressing others. That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about legitimately earned profit, which can only come from serving. So it’s that idea of the business guy as the entrepreneur, or gal, right? Who serves, who’s filling a gap, filling a need. And when that person serves me, I have more time. I have more leftover.

How did “Counting the Cost” come about (with Michael Novak featured)?

Anne Bradley:

We had done a first edited volume called For The Least of These. And it was really bringing theologians and economists together to try to understand a Christian perspective of how to help the poor, help care for the poor. And we felt that it was a really successful project. So we said, “Okay, what’s our next project going to be?” And we really wanted to an edited volume. The benefit of that is that you have a lot of voices. So we have many authors and we wanted to do the same thing. Bring in economists, but also bring in theologians. And so when we were really wrestling with what are we going to talk about? There’s so many things we could. We said, “Okay, here’s the thing that we’re observing, is that there’s a lot of calls within Christian circles for socialism.” This is becoming a more popular term.

It sounds good on paper. Is it good? Should Christians be socialists? This is a question. So the flip side of that coin is how should we feel about capitalism? And we’ve talked already about how capitalism is a complicated word that brings up a lot of emotions. So we said, “Let’s deal with that”. Let’s really assemble a group of authors who are qualified to speak on this topic. And we didn’t want to be cheerleaders for capitalism. There’s a thousand books out there, and there are, some of them are good that just say, “Here’s why you should be for capitalism”. We didn’t want to do that. We wanted to take people and say, “Who are the people that are really bringing legitimate questions? I’m a Christian. Should I be for capitalism? Or is it bad?” We wanted to take those honest questions and try to address them.

So each chapter is an effort to address a critique that Christians frequently bring against capitalism or that they’re questioning. And so each chapter is an attempt to take the reader through that critique. And then again, they the reader can decide. And when we came to this idea, we said, “Okay, Novak has to be part of this”. And we reached out to him and he said he would be willing to do it. And we said, “Look, this book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism”. For many people, they cite that book as a life changing book, in terms of it changed their minds, it changed their hearts. They went from again, advocating for socialism to more advocating for a free society. And I think that’s Novak’s position himself. He had that revelation. And so when we asked him, “Can you write an updated version of that book for the 21st century, in light of the fact that we have a new generation that’s clamoring supposedly for socialism?” And he said, “Yes”. And we’re just very blessed that we were able to have him be part of the book.

What is the theme of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism?

Anne Bradley:

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism is a really important book because it’s also not just a cheerleading book. It’s not written by someone who’s never questioned capitalism. I think that’s the power of it. So what is he talking about in the book?

The main idea in one sentence is that this kind of idea of a three legged stool. That to have a flourishing society, you have to have these pillars of freedom. You need economic freedom, you need political freedom, and you need pluralism. You need a society where you can debate ideas. And so he very much understood that there’s a certain ethos, a certain system of ethics that has to undergird a society where we’re going to be free, where we’re going to live amongst each other. And that’s a really powerful message, and I think relevant for the 21st century, so his message lives on.

Would your “hockey stick” be possible without Christianity?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t think so. I think that the hockey stick is predicated upon truths that come right out of scripture. Now some people have disdain for the scripture, don’t want to accept the scripture. But interestingly, they still accept some of the principles. Let me just talk about one, property rights. Property rights don’t work because we tell people to respect them. They work because people believe that it’s valuable to respect other people’s property, and to have your property respected. So this is a deep… How do I say this? This is a value or a belief that people have to hold deeply, for it to work. No business is going to make an investment in a society that’s rife with civil war, or sectarian violence. Why? Because you open up a factory, you might employ people for a couple days, and grenades hit it the next day, and the investment is gone.

Right? So, we know how to generate economic growth. But it’s not enough to say, okay everybody, you should believe in property rights. People have to deeply believe that. And, when they deeply believe that, they will respect others. So, right, it would be easy for me to go to my neighbor’s house and steal their stuff, why don’t I do it? I don’t do it, not just because I would go to jail if I do it. I don’t do it, because I believe it’s wrong to violate the property rights of others. So, I think that these ideas that come from the Judeo-Christian heritage, property rights, work, savings, right? Savings mean, you believe that you have a long time horizon, that you’re bringing up families. These values are critical, I think for this massive explosion of wealth, we’ve witnessed over the past 200 years.

Does wealth creation require certain self-limiting or even Christian values?

Anne Bradley:

Free enterprise or market based society works because again, we follow certain codes of conduct, certain rules of ethics, at least most people most of the time. You’re never going to get perfect. You’re going to always have theft, you’re always going to have greed, you’re always going to have violations of these norms, but the key is to get most people following them most of the time. This is what Adam Smith was worried about. He wasn’t worried about perfecting human beings, so he was very wise there. He knew that wasn’t possible. Society, to get it to run well, isn’t about finding the perfect people to run businesses or the perfect person to be the president or trying to find the Mother Teresas everywhere because we’re just going to fall short of that. People are not generally altruistic all the time.

I do think it’s that, it’s self limiting behavior that’s the key. Again, I gave the example that I could steal from my neighbors and I could be temporarily better off, but I restrain myself from doing that. That’s a code of ethics that I hold myself to and when we all, or when most of us restrain ourselves in that way, there’s a lot more flourishing. Freedom isn’t about using the state to tell us what to do and what not to do. It’s actually about getting a deeper set of norms and ethics that encourage people to do that on their own. I make my own choices not to steal, right? Because stealing, in the long run, is much more costly of a behavior for me than being productive.

Is there more than one way to produce Novak’s social three-legged stool?

Anne Bradley:

Yeah. I think the answer to that question is there is not one way, one unique way, but I think there are principles that always have to be in place. So the principles always have to be there. What are the principles? When we talk as economists about economic freedom, we’re actually talking about something that we empirically measure. So we’re looking at the rule of law. We’re looking at the protection of property rights. We’re looking at the size of the state. Are people of free to open businesses, to engage in trade, to trade internationally? And we go in and we measure that. That data that we can acquire, there’s a lot of is to get to that. So if you look at, let me just give a concrete example. It took the United States 150 years to experience their Industrial Revolution. That’s a long time. We had to have electricity before we had cell phones and we had to invent all these things from scratch.

Japan, this is a country that goes through their industrial revolution in 20 years. The countries that have not yet experienced an Industrial Revolution that Hans Rosling talks about so well, they will experience their industrial revolution in two decades, maybe less. So there’s not one way. It doesn’t take everybody 150 years. Here’s another example. What we’re seeing in the developing world is people are living in mud huts and when they get a little bit of an income increase, they get a cell phone. It’s very weird for us to look at that and say, “You live in a mud hut, but you have a cell phone.” Why? It took us a long time to do it. We had the house, we had the brick and mortar, way before we had the cell phone.

So it’s not going to look the same, but the principles in play are always the same. You have to have economic freedom, economic freedom gets better political freedom and better political behavior, and that is a self reinforcing thing potentially for even more economic freedom. And you have to have religious freedom, which is not a theocracy that’s imposed by the state on the people. So I think the principles are always there, but the way it’s manifested can be very different.

Why is the idea of socialism in the US experiencing a comeback?

Anne Bradley:

I’m not sure I can answer why socialism is experiencing a comeback, because as somebody who thinks about economic systems a lot, it’s very bizarre to me from an efficacy standpoint. In other words, it doesn’t have a lot of capabilities. But I think here’s what I have come to this conclusion. It sounds good on paper. I have a list of a lot of things, and I always say, “This sounds good on paper.” It sounds really good to say, “There are some people who are very rich. Bill Gates has a bunch of billions of dollars. We could take a billion from him and he would barely notice.” That may be true. Doesn’t mean it’s right. But it may be true that we could take a billion or two from him, from George Soros, all these rich guys, and give it to poor people. It sounds good on paper, but it’s not addressing the underlying issues of why people are poor.

See, societies that have economic freedom liberate people and liberate many people permanently. That redistribution I just talked about, here’s all we’re doing. We’re taking money from one place and we’re moving it to another place. Then what happens when all that’s gone? Well, then they need more. The poor stay poor and they just depend on the redistribution.

The fundamental root problem, it’s kind of dealing with the symptom, not dealing with the cause of the disease. The cause of the disease is people are poor because they’re excluded from market trade. They’re excluded from entrepreneurship. That’s what we need to fix. Economic freedom does that. Socialism does not.

Venezuela and Socialism

Anne Bradley:

To get some empirical examples to your question, it’s very hard for me to understand when my students suggest that socialism is a good idea when I point to modern day Venezuela. I mean, this is a society, every day you could do a Google search an article about Venezuela and every day you get another story of how people are in line, there’s no bread at the grocery store, babies are dying in the hospital because they can’t get penicillin. Something, that in the United States, my pharmacy has a big sign on the drive through, and it says, “Free antibiotics,” meaning no price. So why is it that we have tons of penicillin and people in Venezuela have zero? Again, we could think in terms of redistribution and say, “Well, we have a lot, they don’t have any. Let’s to take a lot from us and give it to them.” That might solve their problem tomorrow and it may be the case that we should engage in that charity, but that charity doesn’t solve the underlying problem of why the heck don’t they have penicillin. They don’t have it because there’s no incentives for businesses, for doctors, to provide services. It’s about a reform of the society, which socialism cannot do.

And end to add another layer of complexity, as the state takes over more control of the economy, which is what socialism about is about, it’s about the public ownership of the means of production, then the state automatically becomes more totalitarian because if you’re going to decide you have this farm and you’re going to grow this, you have this manufacturing plant and you’re going to do this, I’m going to tell you what to do, it’s command and control.

What is the fundamental problem with socialism?

Anne Bradley:

There’s no profit and loss. There’s no learning. There’s no trial and error. So if the state gets it wrong, people are just in trouble. Sorry, no penicillin for you because we couldn’t figure out how to make it work. So when that happens, the threat of revolution escalates. And what happens? The government becomes more and more totalitarian.

So totalitarianism is a natural outgrowth of socialism. It is a feature, not a bug. And I think we have to absolutely educate young people about this today because it’s this myth that it’s romantic and we’re just going to share and it’s kumbaya and everybody’s going to take from the rich guys. It doesn’t work. If it works, I would say let’s do it, but it doesn’t work.

Are the Scandinavian countries good socialist countries?

Anne Bradley:

Are Sweden, Denmark, and Norway successful socialistic countries? I love this question. My short answer is no and here’s why. They’re not socialist countries. This is kind of a Bernie Sanders-ism. It’s this idea that- Bernie Sanders, who is a guy I would love to have coffee with, but I’m not important enough I don’t think for him to have a meeting with me. I agree with him on a lot of things. I agree with him that we don’t want … Again, a butterfly.

Doug Monroe:

This important question.

Anne Bradley:

It is. It’s a great question.

Doug Monroe:

Damn right it’s important. And you’re exactly right, they’re not socialistic.

Anne Bradley:

It’s ridiculous. Yeah. All right, Ellie.

Are the Scandinavian countries even socialist?

Anne Bradley:

They’re not socialist countries. Socialism, again, implies that the state makes production decisions. The state tells you’re going to own this factory and you’re going to make nails and then we’re going to tell you how many pounds of nails to make. This is the Soviet Union. Okay. This is where Venezuela’s heading. Denmark, people are free to open businesses. In fact, there’s a lot of entrepreneurship in Denmark. So when Bernie Sanders says we should be more like Denmark, in some ways, he’s absolutely right. We should stop the overregulation of business, which I think is one of the big threats in the United States today.

It’s much easier to open a business in Denmark than in the United States. That said, what Bernie Sanders is really referring to is the redistribution. So there’s more redistribution of kind of taking wealth through taxation and spreading it in attempt to be equal, not perfectly equal, of course, over the broader population. Here’s the other thing I would say, Denmark probably has a population of around eight million. This is the size of Manhattan. So it’s easier in some ways to engage in this type of activity when you have a smaller population that’s more homogenous, the bigger your society is the harder it is to be “socialism.”

So I think this is kind of like a trick question from the Bernie Sanders of the world. They are not socialist. It’s not a socialist paradise and they have improvements they can make as well. But if you look at their rankings in terms of economic freedom, Denmark and the United States are almost tied. So it’s not a socialist paradise.

Why does socialism fail?

Anne Bradley:

The reason that socialism does not work in the long run, there’s a couple of reasons and they go right to the things we’ve been talking about. Who are we as human beings? And what are we capable of and what are we not capable of? So I think it comes down to anthropology and economics.

One, people are self interested, meaning I’m going to do what I think is going to benefit me and my family. That’s true of me. That’s true of somebody who runs a business. That’s true of somebody who runs a government. So that’s the first point. Everybody’s self interested, so you have to put the right incentives upon people.

Why does the business leader open a business? It’s not because he’s this altruist who cares about everybody, maybe he does, but the real reason is because he’s going to earn a profit, or she, if they do that and they do it properly.

So incentives is the second reason. We’re self-interested, we respond to incentives. We can’t rely on altruism. That’s the problem with socialism. It requires people to kind of have no incentive to do some of these things.

The other thing or idea is knowledge. F.A. Hayek, very famous economist in the 20th century, talked about what he deemed to be the knowledge problem. And he said the reason that socialism fails is because we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. I mean, think about some of the most successful companies.

Walmart. Walmart didn’t start out as the Walmart we know it today. Microsoft didn’t start out. Bill Gates is tinkering around in his parents’ garage. This is a story of trial and error. They had to become that. Why? Because they constantly are engaging with their customers. They’re trying to give customers better quality, lower prices. That’s the name of the game.

So the problem is that the socialist planners give orders, right? They say, “Start a Microsoft and figure out how to get people what they want.” See, the problem with that is that there’s no competition. There’s no way for me to learn.

So I think that’s the third kind of bullet point is that social planners do not know what the next invention is in five years that we need to be working on now. The only way Apple knows that is because they’re in the mix right now and they’re trying to figure that out. So it’s about knowledge being decentralized. Socialism is very centralized.

And then I think the last is benevolence. Socialism requires not only that we overcome the self-interest problem, the incentive problem and the knowledge problem, but we’re going to give these social planners all this power and say, “You do this, you do this, you do this. I’m an organized society. We’re going to create prices. We’re going to think of all the things because we’re really smart. And then we’re going to use all that power wisely and we’re going to be benevolent.” This never happens.

Again, what I said before, socialism is always connected to totalitarianism, because if you’re going to give somebody that much power, there’s no way for them not to use that power to their own benefit. So those I think are the major bullet points why socialism does not work en masse.

Now, we can have small, little… We live in families. Those are kind of socialistic, right? I don’t make my kids pay for their cereal. But it works because I can plan for them, even though not perfectly, and I love them. That’s why families work. I love them and I care about them deeply in their long term. The socialist planner can’t love all of us even if they wanted to. So those are the real character flaws of socialism.

How do you think about the conflicting Christian values, equality and freedom?

Anne Bradley:

It’s easy for people, as you said, to understand the values of freedom. I think that this idea of the value of equality is a little bit trickier. What is the value of equality? Again, if you asked Bernie Sanders, or even if you asked a kind of progressive evangelical, they would put that in material terms. They would say, “Well, equality is about material equality.” I think that is not a biblical understanding. If you read the Bible front to back, we’re never promised material equality. I don’t think that’s the Christian or biblical understanding of that term.

I think equality is we are equally loved by God and we bear these equal characteristics in our creation. That’s a very different conception. We are equal in dignity is how I would put that. We have equal dignity. Why? Because we are all created in the image and likeness of God, but we are different. Equality is not even a possibility. We look different. We think differently. We have different skills and talent. Equality is actually contrary to our created image. We are created different. We’re not created equal, but we’re equal in dignity.

Is wealth concentration in capitalism evidence of exploitation?

Anne Bradley:

I really wanted to come at this idea of inequality, again, from a Christian perspective. But also kind of to help people walk through, should we even do anything about this? I mean, that’s an open question. So I wanted to try to address that. And what we’re talking about here in this chapter is income inequality, we’re not talking about inequality of dignity or something like that, because I’ve just made the case that if you believe scripture we’re equal in dignity. So that’s our starting point here.

So the question is if we’re equal in dignity and we live in a society where people earn different amounts of money, is that a problem? What does it mean? And the answer is always as any good economist would say, it depends. So if we live in a market based society with free enterprise and economic freedom, how do people earn their money? They earn it because customers give it to them. The only reason that Steve Jobs died a very wealthy man is because lots of people wanted to have Apple products. There was no coercion. He had to compete with Michael Dell and Bill Gates and all these other people to get that position. And so the good thing for consumers is I’m not forced to buy my iPhone, I can buy a Samsung or something else. And so this is what we wanted to really dig into was is the fact that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, that they have a massive amount of income compared to me, is that problem? Not in a society where he earns it because customers are buying their products.

Now, income inequality can be a problem, and I try to address that in the chapter, when it’s not earned income, when we’re using the state, when we’re using corruption, when we’re using bribery, when we’re using oppression to try to extract income from other people. So it’s a sophisticated level of nuance we have to have here. And then I kind of talk through how we measure it and all that type of thing. But I think the answer is it depends. But the best chance you have for income inequality to not be a problem is in a society where the rich only get rich because customers want and like what they’re doing.

What is the Gini Index?

Anne Bradley:

When we look as economists at income inequality, we try to measure… This is a very hard thing to get accurate measurements of, but we do the best we can. So we use something called the Gini Index, and this really is taking a certain population… So the Gini Index, the number you get, is going to depend on your sample size. We could do the Gini Index for my neighborhood. We could do it for the whole United States. And we typically are comparing country to country scores. So what we do is we look at tax returns and we say, what is the statistical holdings of income over people? And the way the Gini Index works is it ranges from zero to one.

So a Gini score of one is a score of perfect income inequality. It quite literally means one person has all the income. Everybody else has nothing, okay? We can say, “I don’t want to live in that world.” A Gini score of zero is perfect income equality. Everybody has the exact same income. Maybe we all earn $50,000 a year or whatever. The question is should we be trying to get closer to zero? Zero sounds more fair, right? Everybody has the same. And so when we… As economists, we measure this. Again, I said we used tax returns, is a very kind of complicated method to get to this number. I would say that this score doesn’t tell us very much of what we actually want to know.

And just to give you an example, the Gini in the US is around 0.45. Okay. So we’re almost dead center. Is that good? Is it bad? It’s hard to tell, right? What would it look like if the United States had a 0.3 score, which is closer to a Sweden? What would it look like if the United States had a score of 0.6? So there’s a range over which we have a lot of gray. We don’t really know. And again, I think what I would go back to here is that the Gini Index doesn’t help us understand how people earn their income. Did they earn it by serving their customers? Or did they earn it by engaging in crony type of activities that give them favors? And so that’s really a much more nuanced level of analysis we have to apply when we’re looking at this.

Can equality of result be “evil”?

Anne Bradley:

So I think what you’re asking there is when we want equal outcomes. It’s going back to can we manufacture a society in which we all have equal outcomes? Let me just give a little meat to that. What would that look like? Well, we all have the same income and we all have a house and we all have a car and we all get at four years of education. Whatever that equality of outcome is, if that’s what the question is, I think it may not have evil intentions for some who advocate for it. I think it has evil results. And here’s why. Go all the way back to Genesis. We’re created in the image of God. We’re unique. We’re different. It’s our differences that allow us to flourish. So trying to rectify our differences by making us all equal is destructive to our humanity.

It means that we will be poor, that we will die early, often and young. So I think a lot of people come to this equality of result, income redistribution. Let’s give everybody a car. This is what Hugo Chavez was doing in Venezuela. Everybody gets a car, everybody gets an apartment. It sounds good. It sounds like we’re going to be equal. We’re going to have the same stuff. But the first question is, how do you pay for that? But the second question is, we want people to use their unique sets of gifts and skills and talents to be creative. That’s the agency God has given us. Be creative. And if people are the same, if we strip them of their differences, they can’t do that. If we’re all actually equal, there’s nothing we can trade for. Nothing. And so I think the outcomes of that are very evil. They destroy people.

Does democratic capitalism have goals?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t know that there are specific goals to democratic capitalism. I think there’s broad goals to democratic capitalism.

What do we mean when we say that? We mean, we don’t actually know what’s going to come next. Let’s take each word at a time. Democracy means representation. People have agency. I elect my political representative to enforce the rules that I already agreed to, that are part of this. Democracy means that there’s political representation, which is a ward against tyranny and oppression. Capitalism means private decentralized people decide how they’re going to make their investments. We have no idea what’s going to come next.

Living in a world of freedom means there’s a lot of predictability in the rules of the place, but it means there’s a lot of unpredictability in terms of knowing where the world is going to go. We don’t know what the next invention’s going to be. We don’t know what life is going to look like in 20 years. That’s exciting. It’s exciting to not know. It’s exciting to have people have the right incentives to be coming up with the next big ideas.

I think those are the broad goals of democratic capitalism, but the goals are not specific, other than protecting the rule of law, protecting people in their relationship against predation by the state, and protecting markets, allowing markets to bloom.

How do you think about social justice?

Anne Bradley:

Social justice, this is another one of those terms that I think has a lot of different meanings. So I think what I will say is my understanding is what I observe from people who claim to be advocates of social justice. I mean, first, let’s say I’m not anti-justice. But, what does justice this mean from a biblical perspective? It means getting what you deserve. I’m not sure we all want justice all the time. I think social justice is a conception that’s more broadly trying to articulate what are our social responsibilities for people who are excluded, left behind, marginalized, exploited.

That said, I think that there’s really important things that people in the social justice movement are talking about. There are people alive today who are permanently exploited and are poor as a result of it and we need to think about what it’s going to take to get them out of that situation. Where I might disagree with some of my social justice temporaries, if you will, is the means by which we do that. In many cases, social justice pioneers and advocates really want redistribution. It’s what we talked about before. Do they think that the best way to care for the poor is to just redistribute wealth?

Because the notion there is that Bill Gates by being rich is taking away from poor people. Okay. So it’s a zero sum game. In economics, that’s how we would talk about it. It means I only win if I take from you. So whatever I gain is lost from you. That’s not the world of free enterprise. In fact, the world of free enterprise is Bill Gates only gets rich if we buy his stuff. And so his stuff needs to be what we want at the price we can afford to pay at high levels of quality. And so I think the social justice narrative around the solution for poverty and oppression and exploitation, which are real issues that we need to concern ourselves with as Christians.

I think that’s where I would disagree with them is what is the best means? I think the best means are markets. I think that’s what liberates us.

How do we follow Jesus to cure poverty worldwide?

Anne Bradley:

How do we cure poverty worldwide? I love this question. I would say first, we are curing it. It’s not a how to, in the sense that we don’t know what, we’re starting from zero. These numbers are kind of spit-balling here, but in 1990, about 45% of the population on the planet, lived in abject poverty, and we define that today as living under $1.90 a day, 45%, 1990. Not that long ago.

Today, it’s under 10%, under a billion people. While that rapid, run, escape from poverty has happened, population is going up, not down, so that’s phenomenal, right? The population is growing and we’re all getting richer so I think we are escaping poverty. We are curing poverty and what’s happening? Well, it’s people being included in market trade, right? It’s people being able to have agency over their choices. And then when they get just a little bit of that agency, it’s like a thousand flowers bloom and it’s an amazing thing to watch.

I mentioned earlier that when we see in developing economies, when the poor, the extreme poor, get a little bit of an increase in their income, it goes directly to technology. Because imagine being poor, again living in a village that’s remote and unconnected from the world, and now having a cell phone. What we’re seeing is that, this is a great entrepreneurial opportunity, in particular, for women. Women will save up and buy these cell phones. They’ll go to the middle of their village and they’ll sell minutes, because not everybody can afford the cell phone. And imagine what it’s like, if you’re living in grinding poverty and you have to take your child to the doctor. It’s not like the world we live in where my doctor texts me to make sure I’m going to show up on time for my appointment. No, you have to walk, could be four miles away and sometimes the doctor’s sick. So you walk four miles with your kids in tow, who are sick and the doctor’s not there to help you. Imagine the time savings that phone gives you. It’s profound.

And so I think that technology age that we live in is really hastening the pace of this escape from poverty, and so I really am just so optimistic about the future. So it’s not, how do we cure poverty? It’s let’s keep curing poverty by letting people participate in market trade.

How important are “commanding heights” versus “little people” in an economy?

Anne Bradley:

It’s all about the little people all the time. Even if I think of very Western wealthy examples, I mean, Bill Gates certainly wasn’t poor when he was tinkering around in his parents’ garage. But he had a little bit of leftover time and he put his creativity to use, and that’s what we need to empower ordinary people to do. I like to think of us all as most of us are ordinary people. So it’s about being able to tinker, being able to have entrepreneurship or the chance at entrepreneurship. And to me, it’s all about the little people.

You and I are the little people, right? I mean, it’s about not figuring out who’s going to run the steel mills and putting someone in charge of that. It’s actually about in the steel industry, what are the little tweaks and adjustments we can make? That often happens at the ground level from little firms who then grow in maybe to big firms. But I think entrepreneurship is always local. So we need to think about, what does it take for people to be empowered, to have just little entrepreneurial opportunities that can grow into bigger ones?

Are we better off living according to God’s word?

Anne Bradley:

I think the way to look at this question is to say, when we are obedient to what God has, to who he’s created us to be and how he wants us to live and act, and there’s broad principles there, but this is also highly personal, right? How he wants you to live and how he wants me to live. He’s going to ask us to do different things. The basic principles of course are always the same. When we are obedient to him, we are going to experience less frustration. When we disobey him, when we live against who we’re created to be, there’s going to be lots of frustration. So it’s the fulfillment, frustration divide. Now we can be fulfilled and still have tough stuff that’s thrown at us. So it’s not the prosperity gospel. It’s not that if you do what you think God is telling you to do you’re going to have a mansion and you never have any worries again.

No, Job promises us, right? We learn from that trial, trial, trial, trial. That’s the world we’re in. Our faith is always going to be tested because the world is against Christianity. And so I think it’s never without trial, but it always is fulfilling if you’re doing what God is asking you to do. It’s a hard thing to do. I think sometimes it’s a hard thing to know. What does he want me to do right now? How do I know that with clarity? It takes a lot of prayer and I think dedication to being Christ centered. So this is a hard thing, but I think you can be challenged and under siege and fulfilled. So I don’t think it’s this, you’re going to be rich or you’re not going to have any problems or all the stuff is going to go away like you said. Isn’t it just easier when we obey? I think it is easier, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but we’re fulfilled.

Are we living in a post-Christian world today?

Anne Bradley:

I’m not sure what we mean when we say a post-Christian world, do we mean a Christian culture, which I think is what a lot of people are dealing with? I mean, we’re certainly not talking about a theocracy formally, but you can see when people start to have that debate, you have to ask the question, what does it mean to have a Christian world if we’re in a post-Christian world? And I would go back to Novak here and say we’re not advocating for a theocracy. What we’re advocating for is for this culture of Christian principles to be free to bloom. Christianity fundamentally is not about coercion, so that’s not what we’re advocating. But to answer this question you have to say, well, for the people that are worried about being in a post-Christian world, what are we losing? What do we have before that we’re losing?

And I think some of the answer to that is an increasingly secularized culture where Christianity is under attack. I think there’s some of that. The world is always going to attack Christianity. The question is, are the commanding heights doing it? Is the state doing it? Is it hard for Christians to live out their faith in ways that they want to? And I think that’s where there’s some cause for concern. So we’re starting to really think about dedicating some research to this idea of religious freedom. And what does that mean to have religious freedom? Can you take your ideas into the workplace?

Let’s just use an easy example. Chick-fil-A is closed on Sunday. That’s a religious belief that’s being brought right into a business practice. They’re saying, “We want to go to church. We want to observe the Sabbath.” In my opinion as a Christian and as an economist by the way, they should be free to make that choice. But it is possible to imagine a world where the state says, “Well, that’s living out your Christianity and oppressing people because you’re not giving them the option for a chicken sandwich on Sunday afternoon.” So that’s where I think some of this conversation has very real concerns that we need to take into consideration, what is the limit? What limits can the state put on so-called businesses to live out their faith?

And I think when you look at it deeply, we’re always living out our faith. And so I worry a little bit about this. I don’t know if that is an okay answer, sorry.

What’s your approach as a parent when facing hostility to Christianity?

Anne Bradley:

Yeah. As a parent, this assault on truth. I’m going to answer it two ways, if it’s okay, as a parent but also as a professor. It’s just astounding the thought control. I think, and the desire to limit a dialogue. I mean, if we’re going to get to truth, we’re going to have to dialogue. This is exactly just to keep going back to Novak. This is what he was talking about, a culture in which we can ask real questions and you’re not shot down for asking the question, and this is the world we live in today. And as a mom, this is terrifying. I send my children to private school, very blessed that we can do that, it’s Christian private school. I have many friends who are homeschooling their children as a way to get around this. And what makes me sad is that it’s very hard to send your kid to private school.

It’s very hard to homeschool because it’s hard to compete with free. So all these resources at the local level are dedicated to these public schools. And so private schools have a hard time competing and think about parents who are making the sacrificial choice to homeschool. They’re giving up… In many cases, one parent’s not working because that’s your full-time job so it’s a very expensive thing to do. But I don’t want my children to be exposed to someone else’s perception of truth in a dogmatic way, that they are not permitted to question. And I think by the way, this is possible in the private schools too, right? So you’re never away from it. I think what we have to do with our children is teach them to seek truth that’s grounded in scripture. As a professor, I’ll just say really quickly, it’s terrifying what’s going on in college classrooms.

I have a part of my syllabus now that explicitly is addressed to academic freedom. And in that paragraph, I talk about how we are going to question our beliefs to their core. And that’s what it means to seek truth and that’s what it means to be a learner. And if you’re offended because you hear an idea, but you’re not willing to investigate whether that idea is true or not, you’re never going to learn. So I think there’s a real reason to be concerned about the culture.

How did postmodernism gain so much social influence?

Anne Bradley:

I don’t know how we got here. I think the problem with this “everybody has a truth” business, is that now you can’t say something is incorrect. Let’s just take something benign, which I don’t actually think is benign at all, but property rights. Most people who live in a country like the United States agree that property rights really sacred and important. But then when you start to push on the edges of that, it’s not so clear that people think that. I mean, let’s just think of something silly. Do I have a right to tell you that you can’t put a swing set up in your backyard or that you should or should not have a fence or that you can or cannot have a pool? Or what can you do on your property? I mean, these are questions of property rights. I’m not sure when we shifted to everybody gets to tell you that, because that seems to be the culture that we’re in now, which is my neighbors can tell me what to do with my property. And then we can have injunctions through HOA boards and that percolates all the way up to the top. I’m not sure what the cultural shift is that got us there.

Maybe one aspect of it is we live in a digital age that’s very transparent, so it’s easy for me to see what other people are doing. And 50 years ago, maybe that was kind of more difficult for me to know everything about the corporations I deal with and the neighbors I deal with. I’m not sure. I don’t have a lot to say about that because I don’t know. But I am worried about it. I think it’s something to be worried about.

Are you seeing any Christian awakening nearby?

Anne Bradley:

I think that there are important people that are really trying to reconnect some of this faith work, foundational stuff in addition to, if we … Tim Keller is one who I would say, Os Guinness, some of these guys. I think people are going, if there’s no had a lot of awakening, I think that it’s going to be on the horizon because as the culture gets more radically secularized in a sense that the people who are the secularizers, or have that agenda, are going to use the state to tell everybody else what they can and can’t do. That’s going to run up against a wall and I think you’re going to see more of this agitation, kind of a grassroots resistance to that. So that’s a good thing because this idea of liberty is a vulnerable one. We have to fight for it. If we don’t get that awakening, we’re going to need it soon, because I think the forces that want to really use the state to tell us, “You have to do what we tell you to do and if that includes selling chicken sandwiches on Sunday, because we want them sold, you’re going to do it,” I think that’s going to take resistance. Vocal resistance.

What can Christians learn from growth in Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America?

Anne Bradley:

I think what we can learn is that reform is always possible. There’s no hopeless. You can take an economy that… Look at China. For its whole… Well, that’s not true. But for a long time, it was very poor, run by communists. Hadn’t experienced an industrial revolution then what happens in 1978, little reforms. Not welcome capitalism, but little land reforms, little mobility reforms and just is blossoming. Now there’s a lot of work to do, but I think it’s a very encouraging thing what we see.

If you look at China and India alone, by the way, and you’re looking at the global poverty numbers, China alone accounts for 800 million people escaping poverty since 1978. So if you look at all the data, China and India are doing a lot of the work, so it’s profound. I mean, together they what, 2.6 billion people. That’s a lot of people that can escape poverty when we get things right. So, I would look and say, it’s possible and it doesn’t take as long as it used to. This reform happens in much quicker than it did before.

Should America have a balanced budget?

Anne Bradley:

I would say, to answer the question of, whether governments should balance their budgets? We should, there’s no macroeconomics without microeconomics, so let’s go to the microeconomic principles here. Your family doesn’t do itself any good services or any good when it runs always in debt. And there’s some debt that’s good debt, a lot of us have mortgages on our homes, that’s responsible debt, but you don’t want to take a mortgage that you can’t afford either. So I think the principles of prudent stewardship that apply to our family lives have to apply to our businesses and our governments. And when we lose sight of that, and here’s the problem with the government, that’s different than the family. There’s a limit to how much credit Citibank’s going to give me, right? And if I stop paying my bills and I’m always running over the limit and all these kind of stuff, they’re going to stop doing business with me because I cost them a lot of money, and maybe I don’t pay my bills.

And the same is true for the US government. If we are always going to be in debt, that debt has to be paid for. So the problem that I have with this from a moral perspective is that currently we are financing everything we do by putting a financial burden on people who are not even born yet. So they have no say. We are loading up that burden on people asking them, that is theft in my opinion. Is a very dangerous thing and it’s a very vicious cycle and Republicans and Democrats are equally guilty of this. In terms of the federal budget, we have a lot of problems and this is why, we can all talk about balancing the budget, and that’s all fine and good. I don’t think that’s enough. I think we need to have a fundamental question about what spending can we stop engaging in, because we spend more than we can afford as a government.

And if we don’t stop that, the bottom will fall out. And that’s going to have international implications, right? The soundness of the dollar is one of the best things we have going for us. It makes the dollar a very attractive currency, but if we start spiraling out of control in our debt, that’s going to affect the value of the dollar and everything else. So I think we have to tread with caution here. And I think we need to get back to principles, which is we spend too much, both parties spend too much, so it’s a fundamental reform in the institution of government. This is a hard thing to come by. Nobody wants to give up their spending, right? So it’s hard.

What is America’s role in the world?

Anne Bradley:

My answer to that question is probably a lot different than other people’s question. I think our role is to trade with people. I think our role is to open our borders to goods and services from anywhere that it’s effective to get them because that makes not only us better off, but it makes everybody else better off. To me, this is so clearly a biblical principle. We’re called to care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, right? The forgotten.

How do we help the people in China that still live in poverty? How do we help the people that live in Ghana? How do we help the people that live in Venezuela? We find ways to trade with them. And I think that this is the best because globally, people look to the United States government for what to do. So if we can be a leader in opening up our policies of trade and exchange, other people will follow.

I have to say, the news here has generally been good over the last 40 years. Lots of trades barriers have been reduced. I do not think, maybe I can answer the question also by saying what I don’t think, I do not think the US should take an imperialistic we need to intervene everywhere and make the world safer democracy in the Wilsonian sense of that. I think we’ve tried to do that before. I think it’s very expensive. I think it doesn’t work.

I think if we want other places to have democratic freedoms, they need to have free trade freedoms first. Milton Friedman and F.A. Hayek wrote a lot about this, the relationship between economic freedom and political freedom. And the idea is that economic freedom is necessary for us to get political freedom and political reform. So what can the US do? Trade, promote economic freedom. I think it’s that easy, it’s also that hard.

What are your thoughts on immigration?

Anne Bradley:

Yes. Also, a topic that I like to discuss, but I think I have an unpopular opinion, which is that I think when you’re talking about trade policy, over goods and services, it’s very easy for people to understand that we shouldn’t grow our own bananas. Right? Mexico grows bananas. They have a better climate. We don’t grow any kiwifruit. We get those from New Zealand and other places. It’s very easy for people to accept that, okay, we should give New Zealanders money. They’ll give us the kiwi. We’re both better off. But I think a free trade conversation also needs to incorporate an immigration conversation, because what is immigration? It’s the trade of labor. If we’re so easily willing to accept kiwi, why aren’t we also willing to accept labor? Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t vet that somehow, but I think we do ourselves a disservice when we make it very hard for people to come here who want to come here.

If you look at the economic data over this, what we see is that immigrants, especially in a country like the United States, perform jobs that are very expensive to get American counterparts to perform. I really dislike this trope that says they’re stealing our jobs. I don’t like that phrase at all for a couple of reasons. One, you don’t have a right to a job. Nobody’s really stealing it from you. I mean, that implies that some El Salvadorian woman comes over with her family and a gun and holds it to somebody’s head and says, “Fire the American, hire me.” It doesn’t work that way. Right? Why are jobs shifted? It’s because of the labor. And so I think immigration is good, both for the people who are coming, but the people who live there. We used to be much more open about our immigration policies as a country, and I think we thrived because of it. I think we would do ourselves some good to go back to some of that.

Are you optimistic of pessimistic about the United States?

Anne Bradley:

Here’s what I would say. The United States is a great place to live. I mean, I live here. I could live a lot of other places, I suppose. It’s a great place. Lots of economic freedom. But we’re slipping.

If you look at the data that we collected on this, in 2000, the United States was ranked number two in the world for economic freedom. Today we’re about 16 or 17, depending on the index. We’ve dropped about a rank every year. The question is, what’s driving that? Where are we going? I don’t think the trend looks that great.

Here’s what I’m worried about for the United States. Excessive levels of regulation. It’s becoming harder and harder to be an entrepreneur. We’re regulating business operations so much that it costs business owners a great deal to just open and maintain compliance. This disproportionately affects the poor, which I’m worried about. I’m worried about something that we call occupational licensing. It’s getting very hard to open a business without having a license.

An example of this is hair braiding. The Institute for Justice took up the cause of hair braiders because this is disproportionately affecting African American women who are hair braiding in the basement of their homes and able to have a little business. The salons have come in and said, “You need to have 2,500 hours of cosmetology school,” which basically excludes them from the market. We have to stop this. Talk about income inequality. This is the worst type of income inequality, because it’s the rich trying to protect their privileged position and they’re using the state to do it.

I’m really worried about regulations in the United States, because if we keep going at our clip and we don’t stop spending, there will be a wall we hit where there’s economic decline, lots of unemployment. What’s going to happen then? I mean, how are we going to get ourselves out of it? Like I said before, I don’t think there’s ever a reason to be hopeless. America has historically been the best place in the world to be for a lot of reasons; good government, good institutions, good economy. But we have to fight to keep that. I think we could get our edge back if we just reform ourselves along some of those margins.

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