It may seem counterintuitive to link economic vitality to religion, but a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research concludes that there is a strong correlation. Published online in November 2003, research carried out by Robert Barro and Rachel McCleary in 59 countries over a period of 19 years was summarized by Les Picker in The Digest. The bottom line: economic growth follows strong religious beliefs and practices.
In support of this thesis, there is compelling evidence that Christian missionaries sent around the world have a strong and positive economic impact on Third World countries. This is especially true for sub-Saharan Africa, as described in a May 31, 2019 online article titled, The Economics of Missionary Expansion: Evidence from Africa and Implications for Development. One would think that the resources themselves carried by these travelers caused the growth, but the evidence suggests that the change in character and motivation of the natives created the long-term positive impact.
Since morality and character are attributes that are usually positively formed in religious and spiritual environments, it made sense to me that actions driven by integrity would be productive in an economy. For example, it seems reasonable to conclude that hard work creates economic stimulus, a healthy lifestyle reduces health care costs, and a crime-free life mitigates a community’s excessive judicial investments; conversely, actions motivated by low morality can be costly to an economy.
Although far from perfect, our founding fathers understood this connection. John Adams, who was the primary author of the United States Constitution, is famous for saying, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is quite inadequate for the government of any other. Understanding the precarious financial situation of the 13 colonies shortly after the American Revolution, these men understood that we could ill afford misbehavior from its citizens and trusted them to govern themselves.
Barro and McCleary’s study further observes that not all religions have had the same positive impact; those who believe in heaven and hell have tended to stimulate stronger economic growth. Additionally, strong state support for religious freedom helps the economy, while persecution of religious thought, as is the case with communism, has a dampening effect on financial activity. Unfortunately, as the economy grows and strengthens, religious practice tends to decline and the economy turns weak again.
One can only conclude that those who have the strongest positive impact on our economy are those of us who have religious beliefs that guide our behavior and the choices we make on a daily basis. I encourage you to devote more time to your religious beliefs and to a faith community of your choice. Bourbon County needs all of us at our best.