frederic-bastiat-john-lToday is the 214th birthday of Frederick Bastiat, one of the greatest political and economic thinkers of the 19th century. Bastiat, a farmer turned politician and pamphleteer, had a inimitable gift for explaining economic and political concepts in way that make them not only understandable but seem downright commonsensical.

Bastiat, as Charles Kaupke notes, drew on his Catholic faith and the writings of Adam Smith and John Locke to articulate a vision of limited, efficient government that respects each citizen’s God-given dignity. And as Religion and Liberty adds,

He typified that rare breed of liberal who holds a deep and powerful belief in a personal and transcendent God, and who incorporates this belief in a wide ranging social philosophy centering on the proposition that when left alone society will most clearly display the wisdom and intent of the Creator.

A particular concept of Bastiat’s that has profoundly influenced my thinking is the idea that God arranged the social world. “I believe that He Who arranged the material world,” wrote Bastiat, “was not to remain foreign to the arrangements of the social world.” I wholeheartedly agree. That is why I never tire of arguing about how God created such economic phenomena as the price system and comparative advantage in order to coordinate human flourishing.

There are dozens of ideas in his writings like this one that are worthy of close attention, but here are four particularly important concepts of Bastiat’s that you should know:
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greekbanks_3357117bWhat’s going on in Greece?

Greece is defaulting on a key debt owed to the international community—and the Greek government is putting the question of whether the country will default on even more government debt up for a popular vote this week.

How did Greece get into such a financial mess?

Too much debt. For the past twenty years the government of Greece has spent more than it has collected in taxes.

Wait, that can’t be all there is to it. The U.S. does the same thing, doesn’t it?

Yes, but the U.S. is a rich country with a good credit rating while Greece is not.

A good way to measure a country’s debt is to compare it to its GDP. The United States deficit averaged -3.03 percent of GDP from 1948 until 2014, reaching an all time high of 4.60 percent of GDP in 1948 and a record low of -12.10 percent in 2009 (low is bad). Greece averaged -7.19 percent of GDP from 1995 until 2014, reaching an all time high of -3.20 percent of GDP in 1999 and a record low of -15.70 percent of GDP in 2009. In other words, Greece spends about twice as much (as a percentage of it’s GDP) as does the U.S.

Let’s imagine two countries—Greece and the U.S.—as if they were persons: GDP would be the person’s “income”; the deficit would be “additional credit card debt”; and interest on the deficit would be like “interest on a credit card.”

The U.S. has a high income (16.7 trillion a year) and every year adds about 3 percent to the total it owes the credit card companies (the national debt). No one is too worried that the U.S. will default on its loans so the credit card companies give them a low interest rate (2.43 percent).

Greece, on the other hand, has a relatively modest income (242 billion, or 1/70 the size of U.S GDP) and adds a lot more to its debt every year (7 percent). Greece has a low credit score (i.e., the credit card companies aren’t sure Greece will pay off it’s debt) and so is charged a high interest rate (about 15 percent).

Now Greece is refusing to pay it’s creditors, causing financial turmoil throughout Europe.

If Greece is such a small economy why does it really matter if they default?
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Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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Matt Ridley on Climate Change
Russ Roberts, Library of Economics and Liberty

Science writer and author Matt Ridley discusses climate change with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. Based on his reading of the scientific evidence, Ridley describes himself as a “lukewarmer.” While Ridley agrees that humans have made the climate warmer, he argues that the impact is small or positive over some temperature ranges and regions. He rejects the catastrophic scenarios that some say are sufficiently likely to justify dramatic policy responses, and he reflects on the challenges of staking out an unpopular position on a contentious policy issue.

Pope in US to meet with homeless, prisoners and immigrants
Nicole Winfield, Associated Press

Pope Francis will meet with homeless people, immigrants and prisoners during his upcoming trip to Cuba and the United States. He’ll also preside over a meeting about religious liberty – a major issue for the U.S. Catholic Church in the wake of the Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision.

Dalai Lama Endorses Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Climate Change
Cole Mellino, EcoWatch

The Tibetan spiritual leader also spoke about the need to end war, calling the concept of war “outdated.” The Dalai Lama said we need to shift our focus to launch a global effort to tackle climate change. “Countries think about their own national interest rather than global interests and that needs to change because the environment is a global issue.”

Thousands Take to Rome’s Streets to Echo Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action Thousands Take to Rome’s Streets to Echo Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action
Hoda Baraka, 350.org

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City last September. Among the artwork was a 75-meter sign in the shape of a green leaf, with verses from Scripture which speak to God’s care for creation and for the poor.

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pope plant“Laudato si, mi’ Signore!” Both the title and first line of the most recent papal encyclical come from St. Francis’ canticle which looks at nature as a great gift, but you all know that. Every news source worth its salt made that clear before the encyclical was released (either time); yet, we as Christians are called to be salt of the Earth. This entails more than a brief glance at the word on the street about the ecological pronouncement. What is at stake here is the central call of humanity: to till and keep the gifted garden (Genesis 2:15). The first human was placed in this role of cultivation of the earth even before being told to not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was a promise to act and a law to keep. The Bible is divided into two halves: law in the Old Testament and promise in the New Testament. The call to be salt of the earth is about the Christian life fulfilling that promise. Note that the law followed the promise in the order of our creation. Core to human being was first the love of the life of the world–the greatest commandment as Christ said. So, then why is the reactionary focus of the encyclical even before it was released surrounded upon the policy, the law, that it would inspire and not the call to promise?

Surely within the encyclical there is language that leads to law being created. What Pope Francis has seen in the world directly articulates the life he leads–one unaccepting of a “globalization of indifference” for any child of God’s in need. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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Capitalism should stop being so self-serving
Archbishop Justin Welby, The Telegraph

If we relied solely on self-interest, society would collapse – but inclusive capitalism benefits everyone

In Victory For Small Businesses, Texas Ruling Eliminates Onerous Occupational Licensing
Carrie Sheffield, Opportunity Lives

Sometimes it’s all about the small victories. Yet as we have discussed here at Opportunity Lives, occupational licensing is no small problem that disproportionately harms the poor and the young. Some 29 percent of American workers are in jobs mandating these licenses, which are often lobbied for by incumbent business owners to shield them from fair competition.

ACLU: Why we can no longer support the federal ‘religious freedom’ law
Louise Melling, Washington Post

The ACLU supported the RFRA’s passage at the time because it didn’t believe the Constitution, as newly interpreted by the Supreme Court, would protect people such as Iknoor Singh, whose religious expression does not harm anyone else. But we can no longer support the law in its current form.

Supreme Court lets Obama administration say words don’t mean what they say
Michael Barone, AEI

For most people, words mean what they say. But not necessarily for a majority of Supreme Court justices in two important decisions handed down Thursday.

BuyLocal.inddOver the past few decades buying locally produced goods and services over those produced farther away has become increasingly fashionable. However, this “modern” trend is really a reversion to an earlier period when most all products were produced and bought from people in a localized area. For most of human history, “buying local” was the only option.

There may be many reasons we may want to buy local goods and services—but improving the local economy is not one of them. As economist Don Boudreaux explains in the video below, there are many reasons why it’s foolish to ‘buy local’ if your goal is to improve the economy of the locale in which you live.

Blog author: bwalker
Monday, June 29, 2015
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Good Stewards of the Earth
Religions for Peace New Faiths for Earth Campaign

Shortcomings undercut message of encyclical
Doug Bandow, Philly.com

For instance, the encyclical complains much of capitalism as well as property rights, which, in the pope’s view, allow selfish individuals to act against the public interest. Yet capitalism provides the resources and technology to improve environmental protection. Indeed, the holy father acknowledges that “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity.”

Pope Francis’s Encyclical Makes Waves from Brazil to the Philippines
Sergio Mello e Sousza and Brother Jaazeal Jakosalem, OAR

Faith can move mountains and, combined with scientific facts, can open people’s hearts and minds in a powerful way. The pope clearly sees that fighting climate change and restoring the Earth’s ecosystems is a moral duty we have to our fellow humans, to future generations and to Creation itself. This is a message that we find in the sacred texts of many other religions. Caring for the Earth is caring for the common good.

Steyer climate group cites Pope Francis in new ads
Timothy Cama, The Hill

NextGen launched an ad on YouTube last week, putting the pope alongside the Pentagon and business leaders who have called for action on climate change.

U.S. Must Take the Lead on Pope Francis’ Call on Climate Change
Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Huffington Post

The Vatican’s commitment was clear to me when I visited there last year as the only American representative in a group of six legislators from around the world who were working to address climate change in their own countries. My international colleagues shared the impacts of global warming on their people — the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the droughts that harmed Mexico and South Africa. I spoke of the impacts on coastal Massachusetts from record-breaking ocean temperatures and rising sea levels. We all agreed that the world’s poorest are suffering the worst consequences — extreme poverty, famine, and disease.

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heart in handCompassion is a marvelous virtue. Feeling concern for others and acting sacrificially — especially on behalf of those that cannot return the favor — reveals mature character and contributes to human flourishing.

Compassion moves missionaries and monks to great efforts as they plant churches, pioneer institutions, and work for justice across cultures and geographies. Paul’s words are the motivation for his apostolic proclamation that, “…the love of Christ compels us…” and, “one died for all, therefore all died. And those who live should not live for themselves but for him who died and rose again.” (2 Cor. 5)

This agape love includes moral conviction and missional wisdom.

“Unsanctified mercy” (thank you, Jill Miller, for this term) arises when compassion becomes compromise and our fear of offending subverts biblical truth. The American church is increasingly guilty of doctrinal, moral, and spiritual compromise under the guise of compassion and misplaced historical guilt.

At the risk of offending tender sensibilities, it is time to confront our own hearts and our public ministries with gospel truth. Progressive Christians have served the kingdom well as they expose the excesses of consumerism, capitalism, and colonialism that often mark American and Western ecclesial efforts. Conservative Christians serve God’s reign as they remind the church that there are timeless beliefs and values not subject to one’s “evolution.” The sanctity of life, the definition and marriage, and the historical foundations of the gospel and Scripture are among these convictions. There is much room for civil family debate on a variety of issues and strategies.

The events of the past half-century and the last few months are cause for grave concern and I am unashamedly speaking truth to power as unsanctified mercy leads the church down pathways of compromise, irrelevance and ineffective witness. (more…)

Coal power plant Datteln 2 Crop1Today at The Federalist I explore “Why Big Oil Wants A Carbon Tax.” Perhaps such advocacy isn’t just made out of a sense of global citizenship and environmental stewardship.

On the surface such advocacy may seem counter-intuitive. Why on earth, other than out of selfless benevolence, would a firm (or group of firms) advocate for higher taxes on their products? But on reflection, it makes some sense, and the reasoning is similar to why an online retailer like Amazon might be in favor of the collection of sales tax at the state level.

As Adam Smith famously put it, “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

Companies are often happy to raise prices if it hurts their competition or provides them with a competitive advantage. And in the case of carbon taxes, it’s important to recognize that not all fossil fuels are equally carbon-intensive, just as not all renewable sources are equally sustainable and resilient.

This is one of the economic realities that I wish Pope Francis had recognized more clearly in Laudato Si’, although I may have more to say about this later. For now, David Brooks expresses a similar desire in his column, “Fracking and the Franciscans.”

Poverty Rate Rises To 15 Year HighWithin 48 hours of the Supreme Court issuing its diktat on same-sex marriage, there were already calls for religious organizations that oppose gay marriage to lose their tax-exempt status. But Mark Oppenheimer goes even further. The writer of a regular column on religion for the New York Times argues in Time magazine that “the Supreme Court’s ruling on gay marriage makes it clearer than ever that the government shouldn’t be subsidizing religion and non-profits.”

There is a lot that could be said about this proposal, but one fact needs to be stated clearly: it is un-American.

In the past I’ve had discussions with Oppenheimer on other issues. I don’t often agree with him, but I like him personally. He seems to advocate what he truly believes. I don’t think he is attempting to simply gain attention with a provocative article; I think he considers his proposal to be good for America. I say all this to make it clear that I am not using the term “un-American” as an invective against a despised political opponent. In fact, I don’t use that term as an insult at all, but merely as an accurate description of an idea that is fundamentally at odds with American principles. Taxing churches and other charitable non-profits implies that the people exist to serve the government, rather than the government for the people. That is about as un-American as it gets.

In his article, Oppenheimer provides some unconvincing rationales for his proposal. But the underlying premise is that the government should be the primary, if not the sole, provider of services handled by charities and other non-profits:
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