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Friday, November 20, 2015

The Roots of American Prosperity

(Another (unedited) excerpt from my forthcoming book.)

Ask most Americans what was the most important document produced in 1776 and almost no one would answer with Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (more commonly known as The Wealth of Nations). However, some would argue that Smith’s work had more of a global impact than even the Declaration of Independence.

The first edition of The Wealth of Nations sold out in six months. It would have an almost immediate impact on government financial policy, and is considered by many to be the most important treatise on economics ever written. Adam Smith is often called the “Founding Father” of capitalism.

American Founders soon recognized the importance of The Wealth of Nations when it came to economics and sound fiscal policy. Writing to John Norvell in 1807, Thomas Jefferson said that on “the subjects of money & commerce, Smith's Wealth of Nations is the best book to be read.” The Wealth of Nations is a collection of five books and is widely considered the world’s earliest, most comprehensive defense of a free-market economy.

Given the revival, and Revolution in America during the 18th century, and the given the amazing natural resources of America, the opportunity for incredible economic growth in the new United States was present from our founding. And as author W. Cleon Skousen put it in The 5,000 Year Leap, Smith’s doctrines of free-market economics “fit into the thinking and experiences of the Founders like a hand in a glove.”

As Skousen also points outs, the U.S. was the first nation on earth of any size or consequence “to undertake the structuring of a whole national economy on the basis of natural law and the free-market concept described by Adam Smith.”

Natural Law, or “[The] Law of Nature,” wrote English philosopher John Locke (who profoundly influenced our Founders), “stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make for other men’s actions must…be conformable to the Law of Nature, i.e. to the will of God…”

“True law,” as Cicero called it, is the “one eternal and unchangeable law [that] will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law…”

Blackstone declared in his presuppositional basis for law that, “These laws laid down by God are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil…This law of nature dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this…”

C.S. Lewis concludes that, “Natural Law or Traditional Morality [whatever one chooses to call it]…is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained.”

Throughout the early colonies, the incorporation of Natural (or “Divine”) Law was prevalent. As noted earlier, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (the first constitution written in America), as well as similar documents in Rhode Island and New Haven, specifically mentioned that their civil law rested upon “the rule of the word of God,” or “all those perfect and most absolute laws of His.”

References to, not vague religious babble, but specific biblical texts, such as the Ten Commandments, can be found in the civil law of every original U.S. Colony. It is a fact of history that throughout our pre-Colonial, Colonial, Revolutionary period and beyond, America’s lawmakers and laws were steeped in Natural Law.

When Jefferson wrote of the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” he was borrowing from Lord Bolingbroke, of whom Jefferson was a student. In a famous letter to Alexander Pope, Bolingbroke writes, “You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous enquirer, who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word.”

Thus we see that, belief and acceptance of Natural Law, as understood by America’s founders, is exactly in line with what Scripture reveals. As Paul writes in Romans, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).”

With God’s laws as the foundation for government, and with God’s law written on the hearts of so many Americans, and with a thirst for liberty, a free-market capitalistic society was simply the logical and right direction for the United States of America. In How Christianity Created Capitalism, philosopher Michael Novak writes, “It was the church more than any other agency, writes historian Randall Collins, that put in place what Weber called the preconditions of capitalism: the rule of law and a bureaucracy for resolving disputes rationally; a specialized and mobile labor force; the institutional permanence that allows for transgenerational investment and sustained intellectual and physical efforts, together with the accumulation of long-term capital; and a zest for discovery, enterprise, wealth creation, and new undertakings.”

In other words, America did not become, and for well over a century now, remain the most prosperous nation on earth merely by the blind forces of unfettered capitalism. The Christianity practiced by millions of Americans, and the Christian principles that formed the foundation of our laws and government produced a free, moral (but not perfect), and capitalistic society unlike anything the world has ever known. Thus, a prosperity like the world has never seen resulted.

Copyright 2015, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
www.trevorgrantthomas.com
Trevor and his wife Michelle are the authors of: Debt Free Living in a Debt Filled World
tthomas@trevorgrantthomas.com

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