Acton Institute Powerblog

Whose Status Do You Want to Raise?

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statusIn a recent comment about neo-reaction (forget about that for now, this isn’t about neo-reaction), economist Arnold Kling says “a major role of political ideology is to attempt to adjust the relative status of various groups.” One outcome of this is that,

… every adherent to an ideology seeks to elevate the status of those who share that ideology and to downgrade the status of those with different ideologies. That is why it matters that journalists and academics are overwhelmingly on the left. This means that the institutions of the mass media and higher education are inevitably and relentlessly going to seek to lower the status of conservatives.

This is an astute observation that seems rather obvious when you think about it, for we all have certain groups whose status we want raised. (As Kling says, “I would like to elevate the status of people who work in the for-profit sector and reduce the status of people who work in the non-profit sector.”) What is interesting is that we rarely consider this question openly and honestly.

Whose status do I want to see raised? If I were being perfectly candid I’d probably say my own (as most of us would). But if I were allowed a more idealistic answer I’d say that, as a Christian and in the context of my work for Acton, I want to raise the status of three groups: the poor, the vulnerable, and consumers.

From a biblical perspective, the first two groups seem to be obvious choices. Scripture contains numerous admonitions for us to not only recognize the poor and economically vulnerable but also to advance their concerns. In a way, the same could be said for consumers, though the biblical case for protecting consumers is less clear and direct.

I believe the nineteenth-century French journalist Frédéric Bastiat was making a biblically defensible point when he said,

consumption is the great end and purpose of political economy; that good and evil, morality and immorality, harmony and discord, everything finds its meaning in the consumer, for he represents mankind.

I’ve argued for that claim before, so I won’t rehash that here. Instead I want to return to the original question and consider why it is useful for political discussions.

Most every political debate involve differences of opinion on the means of helping certain groups. But too often we elide over the question of who it is we want to help. By clarifying whose status we want to raise we can avoid some of the confusion and misunderstandings that arise because of ideological differences.

For instance, many progressives may assume that because I’m a free market-loving conservative that I want to raise the status of Big Business — when, more often than not, the reality is exact opposite. Big Business tends to favor crony capitalism, which harms both the poor, the vulnerable, and consumers — the three groups who I most want to protect. So I often find myself want to lower the status of large corporations in order to defend other groups.

Understanding my status concerns doesn’t mean that progressives will agree with me, of course. But we can improve policy debates by being honest about whose cause we are truly championing.

So let me leave you to answer that question for yourself: When it comes to economic policy, whose status do you most want to raise?

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • This is an extremely important topic! The brilliant Deirdre McCloskey’s series on bourgeois virtues is all about it. Her thesis is that until the advent of capitalism in the Dutch Republic in the 17th century, people despised business and bourgeois values. They valued prostitution higher than business. For much of the history of Christianity the Church told business people they would go to hell if they didn’t get out of business. So even with freedom and private property, few people would go into a despised field such as business. The great take off in standards of living began to happen when people began to hold business in higher esteem.

    But as Joe wrote, and Adam Smith wrote, also, businessmen don’t like competition. They want more security and less of the struggle that competition causes them so they buy protection and favors from the state to reduce competition. But that hurts consumers by increasing prices.

    Socialism decreases the esteem for business people but also for consumers by dictating their choices. We need to increase esteem for business, but balance it esteem for consumers and forcing businesses to compete with each other.

    Also, we need to reduce esteem for the state. Socialists have no esteem for anyone but the state and want the state to control businesses. But as Joe wrote, businesses buy that power for their own benefit and to the harm of consumers.

  • Steve Vinzinski

    The world has changed since April,1975 the end of the Vietnam War.The American Legion and Veterans of foreign Wars along with the Marine Corps League Disabled Vets of America and Paralysed Veterans of America work very hard in helping our Veterans and a very high percentage of monies they collect go to the Veterans.They have plenty of tradition.We have Memorial Day,July 4th and Veterans Day.They are at every burial that is the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.When you look at membership they are strong.