Review of Gary North’s “Puritan Economic Experiments”

puritan economicThis was an interesting book. As a husband and father, and as a preacher trying to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading into independent pastoral ministry, it becomes necessary to strategize and plan in a faith-based way how to pursue economic growth without becoming a pagan. Gary North is my primary source in this regard. His book Puritan Economic Experiments (1988) helped me to clarify and refine some of my thoughts about this.

He takes a look at two Puritan groups: the Pilgrims of the Plymouth Colony; and the more economically successful Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, both of the 1600s. In the early days of the Pilgrims, the primary concern of these Puritans was escaping from persecution in England, so they could practice their Calvinistic Westminster Confession of Faith without being imprisoned, tortured, or killed. There was a Company who owned land in the Plymouth area who allowed the Pilgrims to live there if they would till the land. The only trap of that situation was a common storehouse: everyone had to eat from the same bucket, so to speak; it was communism, and led to a plague, nearly exterminating all the Pilgrims. Also, it made the young men lazy, not seeking employment; all they did was help women prepare food. So, the Pilgrim governor, William Bradford, he changed things. He made it mandatory for every Pilgrim family to have a family farm. Thus began the American dream of private property. Bradford labeled communism as a “conceit of Plato” (p. 5). The more money families had, the better quality of houses they could live in. More money, better houses.

In the context of the family farm, it came to be seen that “private ownership of the means of production…was most efficient…and economically profitable” (p. 20). To me, this would carry over into our times in the form of a family farm, family business, or, where you work a job from home on the internet–the means of production being your PC and the internet site of your internet employer and the direct deposit to your bank account.

In the Massachusetts Bay Colony, for decades, the Puritan governors tinkered with the idea of a minimum wage or a “just wage,” which they found nearly impossible to regulate. The reason why, is because towns and cities have a different economic culture than each other; and hence the bidding prices would have to fluctuate from town to town, or else business simply could not function. Therefore, the most settled idea, which is still with us today in the United States, is that minimum wage is determined by the local governors or mayors of towns and cities. This can be illustrated by McDonald’s, which always pays “minimum wage.” In Dunn, North Carolina, you get $7.25/hour for working at McDonald’s; in Atlanta, Georgia, you get $10/hour; in New York City, you get $8/hour; but in Minot, North Dakota, you get an amazing $11/hour! Minimum wage is based on your geographical location. Being underpaid, also termed “wage oppression,” was something the Puritans tried to steer clear of much as possible. But the final conclusion was free market capitalism: allowing people to move to whatever town or city that would turn out the most profit for them: and usually, this meant the Boston area.

Because the Puritans were so strict and law-abiding, it accidentally produced wealth and economic growth. The preachers warned against pride, ambition, and seeking to wear the clothing styles of the upper class. They saw these things, in keeping with the Westminster Larger Catechism, answers 124 and 126, as not “honoring father and mother”:–which considered the upper class as the ‘fathers and mothers’ and the poor as the ‘children’ of society. This totally un-Biblical idea was a carryover from medieval English feudalism:–kings, princes, dukes, servants, blacksmiths, peasants; and upper, middle, and lower classes. People who sought economic growth and success were discouraged to do so by the Puritan preachers. Predestination, they taught, implied the rich are born to be rich and the poor are born to be poor; this was similar to the Hindu caste system. Fate dominated their minds; even economic fate. But in the 1680s, the second generation of Puritans rebelled against this idea. Economic success was the result, but so was apostasy. Economic growth became such a big focus:–that spirituality was laid aside. For this reason, God sent the Great Awakening through Jonathan Edwards in 1730s. Thank God for that! After that, “individual saints saved, planned, and built for the future” (p. 61).

About Wesley Gospel is self-published in the spirit of John Wesley and the Reformers, as when they used the printing press. The truth of God won't be censored or suppressed!
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