God Comes From The Austrian School

In Matthew Chapter 20, Jesus tells a parable of a “landowner” who owns a Vineyard. Here it is, in the NIV version.

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

1“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.3“About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ 5So they went.

“He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

7” ‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.
“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

8“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

9“The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13“But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

This parable has a lot of pretty straightforward application to the spiritual life.

  1. It is obvious that the landowner is meant to represent God in this parable.
  2. If you go back to Chapter 19, you will see that this parable was given in response to a discussion the disciples were having. Peter, specifically, seemed to be concerned about the rewards of being a follower of Jesus. The parable is meant to illustrate for Peter and the others that rewards in the kingdom (both immediate and ultimate) are not dispensed according to senority. The disciples are the “first workers”.
  3. There is an equality in the abundance of blessings citizens in the kingdom receive, that is reckoned by grace not time cards (so much work, so much pay). So the last to enter the kingdom have full remission of sins and hope, just as those who are veterans. It is all about grace, not about when you enter or some human standard of rank.

But now let’s have a little fun with this verse. Here are some alternate lessons we can take from this passage. [note: this part is not meant to be taken as real theology – I’m just having a little fun here. Lighten up.]

1. The “landowner” obviously subscribes to the Austrian School of economic thought. It is HIS money. HE earned it. He feels that he should be able to do with it as he pleases. His actions are free-market. He is not penalizing anyone unfairly – each worker got what was agreed to in advance (a private “contract”). He was good to his word. He is proactive (going into town searching for workers). We must assume he is a law-abiding, tax-paying, contributing member of society who has benefitted from sound and ethical business practices. (If he were otherwise, he couldn’t stand in for the role of God, could he?)
2. By contrast, the first group of workers appear to be under the influence of Keynesian economic thought. Their primary concern is FAIRNESS. (and by fairness, of course, they totally mean a system which would benefit them beyond what was promised to them.) They grumble. They complain. They want to challenge the authority of the landowner. You get the impression that if they could, they would look outside the free-market system for a government authority to step in and arbitrate the situation. They want to appeal to someone else who will FORCE the business owner to distribute wages in a different manner.They will likely form collective bargaining to prevent this from ever happening again. They are entitled to higher wages than the last workers hired, aren’t they?
3. Last thought. So if the landowner is meant to represent God, then could we safely assume that God believes in the Austrian School?

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2 Comments on “God Comes From The Austrian School”

  1. Eric H Says:

    It is true that Austrian economists are staunch defenders of property rights. However, there are a lot of non-Austrians who value property rights as well, including almost all libertarians. True, there is a lot of crossover.

    Certainly property rights is a central component of the Austrian school of thought, but it is not the key element of differentiation. The things that are more characteristically ‘Austrian’ are a focus on subjective values, heterogeneity of capital and just about everything else, and no assumptions about distribution of information. In short, they don’t simplify issues that are extremely complex.

    So you could prove the land owner is a capitalist and speculate that he is a libertarian, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to pin him down to the Austrian school. Of course, the fact that he was using a commodity money might help your case. 😉

  2. jermtech Says:

    Would it have been better for you if I had simply used the terms “Supply-Side” or “Demand-Side?” Those terms aren’t nearly as sexy.

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