Acton Institute Powerblog

Econ 101 for Father Finn

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In a May 28, Huffington Post article, Rev. Seamus P. Finn, OMI, exhibits a woeful lack of economic knowledge. In most cases members of the clergy can be forgiven somewhat for getting it so utterly and completely wrong. After all, few people go into the ministry because they’re fascinated with things like lean manufacturing techniques or monetary policy. But in this instance Finn must be taken to the proverbial woodshed for a lesson in what truly benefits the world’s poor.

Why Finn and why now, you ask? Most important, because he represents the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, and represents the Oblates as a board member at the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. He also serves on the executive committee of the International Interfaith Investment Group (IIIG). From this resume, one might gather that he is influential with the faithful on financial and business matters.

PowerBlog readers who have been following my series of posts on religious-based shareholder activism these past few months may recall my coverage of several ICCR proxy resolutions submitted to a host of companies this spring. I called attention to these resolutions because they draw more from leftist ideology than they do from centuries of deeper Christian thinking on social problems.

Now comes Finn with a HuffPo piece linking ICCR and IIIG initiatives with recent statements made by Pope Francis. While the current pope is no fan of capitalism – read about his views of the market economy here and here on the PowerBlog – Finn apparently despises it outright.

According to his HuffPo bio: “Fr. Séamus believes that the active integration of the faith and values of the religious community into their advocacy efforts in the public sector, with corporations where the Oblates are shareholders and into their financial investment decisions can be a leaven for promoting sustainable human communities and more responsible corporations.”

I would be leery of someone like Finn representing my investment interests. Nowhere in his bio or his essay does Finn acknowledge corporate directors’ primary goal of ensuring that profitmaking firms remain … profitable, not to mention economically sustainable over the long term for the only stakeholders that matter: company owners, shareholders, employees and the communities dependent on the firm’s employment opportunities, taxes and other aspects of the companies’ economic footprint.

Finn writes about “the increasing inequality that is the result of the prevailing financial system, a concern which has been raised by numerous leaders in the political and economic sphere.” If so, then one wonders if Finn is familiar with recent data indicating global poverty has been reduced by 50 percent over the last 20 years. That came about when developing countries dropped their socialist programs in favor of connecting with global markets, inviting more foreign investment, and shedding suffocating regulatory regimes. In a world with a population nearing 7 billion, a 50-percent poverty reduction is kind of like, you know, huge.

Elsewhere, Finn writes: “Expenditures on lobbying and political campaigns are also receiving increased scrutiny especially in the light of the Citizens United decision of the US Supreme Court in January 2010.” This is a roundabout way of repeating the familiar left-of-center determination to overturn the 2009 SCOTUS free-speech ruling by attempting to prevent companies from engaging in the political process. Now that the Internal Revenue Service’s schemes to stifle political grassroots organizations have been exposed, corporate activity in the political realm will unlikely have any negative impacts on shareholder value.

Asserting a “contradiction that exists between the promotion of the common good and the logic of the free and unfettered marketplace,” Finn ignores the obvious reality that there exists no such thing as a “free and unfettered marketplace.” In fact, we live and workin a mixed economy saddled with huge regulatory and taxation burdens. That’s complicated by  religious and clergy who place “social justice” ideology before genuine concern for business owners, entrepreneurs and corporate shareholders and the poor whom benefit from economic growth.

Finn quotes from a Jerry Mueller essay in  Foreign Affairs:

The challenge for government policy in the advanced capitalist world is thus how to maintain a rate of economic dynamism that will provide increasing benefits for all while still managing to pay for the social welfare programs required to make citizens’ lives bearable under conditions of increasing inequality and insecurity.

Mueller’s reference to “economic dynamism” is what most of us call “economic growth.” One is inclined to agree with Mueller that such concerns belong in the government-policy realm rather than Finn’s conflation of it with corporate governance. Leaving aside that glaring obfuscation, however, it’s even more curious that Finn completely ignores how businesses are formed, how innovation takes hold, how wealth is created, and how all of this “dynamism” pays for his cherished social welfare programs.

After all, in the absence of profitable corporations offering gainful employment and a steady stream of tax revenue into local, state and federal treasuries, there will be precious little for the social safety net. And Finn, the ICCR and other members of the “social justice” crowd are completely unaware of this reality.

 

 

 

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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