Donald Trump has called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) the “worst trade deal in the history of this country.” Repealing NAFTA has been a cornerstone of his foreign trade agenda.
But a lot of people in Congress, even conservative Republicans, are not on board. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) wrote an article for the Washington Post saying that NAFTA needs modernizing, but not repealing. Lankford makes some interesting points about trade deficits: “The administration has . . . emphasized its desire to reduce the trade deficit—the degree to which the United States imports more than it exports—in NAFTA renegotiations. This is rooted in the belief that when the United States buys more from foreign countries than those countries buy from us, jobs increase elsewhere and decrease here at home. This is a faulty assumption but one that has unfortunately found its way into mainstream political dialogue.”
Lankford makes a point that anyone who has studied the issue knows: Trade deficits are sometimes good things and should not “remain the focus in NAFTA renegotiations.” His article is worth a close read.
As I read Lankford’s article, it became obvious to me that even though he did not mention the Bible or a biblical worldview in his article, he was deeply concerned about an idea that permeates Scripture, an idea that many theologians and economist have come to call “human flourishing.” It is the biblical idea, present in Scripture from Genesis to Revelation, that God made us in His image and wants us to create, innovate, and thrive. It is first, simply, and elegantly stated in God’s first command to us humans: “Be fruitful and multiply.”
Lankford makes a point about human flourishing when he says free trade between nations, even if it results in a trade deficit for the U.S., contributes to the flourishing of both nations: “One of the best things that can happen to our economy is for other nations’ economies to grow.”
It is, of course, a huge logical and hermeneutical leap to go from this biblical principle to a definitive position on NAFTA, or the recently contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, or many other specific economic issues. However, the Bible is not silent regarding principles that can help us make decisions on such issues. Wayne Grudem, in his classic book “Politics According to the Bible,” contends that the Bible has a clear bias toward free markets. He explains that a free market is better at producing jobs, producing goods and services, and efficiently distributing these goods and services than a market controlled by government—no matter how well-intentioned that government might be.
That’s why Jay Richards, writing at The Stream, says fighting NAFTA is a waste of time. Richards writes that Trump’s contention that NAFTA is a bad deal for Americans is a claim that “doesn’t fit the facts.” He makes the point that “far more U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation than to Mexico or Canada. And the U.S. has gained overall from the deal. Pulling out of NAFTA would probably harm the rural states the president wants to help. Many congressional Republicans know this.” Thus, the Lankford article in the Washington Post.
(By the way, Jay Richards’ book “Money, Greed, and God” is the best primer on biblical economics I have read in many a year.)
Now, I realize that people of good will can disagree on matters such as trade agreements, and it is true that there is no place in Scripture that says, “Thou shalt (or shalt not) support NAFTA.” However, since the Bible is not silent on economic matters, we should seek to apply its teachings when we can. Psalm 24:1 says “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not one thumb’s width of . . . creation over which Christ . . .does not declare, ‘Mine!’”
In short, a truly biblical worldview teaches that God is concerned about all areas of life, including economic areas, and we—his stewards here on earth—should be too.
Image courtesy of ronniechua at iStock by Getty Images. Illustration designed by Heidi Allums.
Warren Cole Smith is an investigative journalist and author as well as the Colson Center vice president for mission advancement.